Zammit wants City to earn respect with bright showing Published on: 12-07-2016
Valletta’s optimism is high after advancing to the second qualifying round of the Champions League at the expense of Faroese side B36 Torshavn but their next opponents are a much tougher proposition as they face Serbian champions Red Star Belgrade (Crvena Zvezda).
Paul Zammit, the Valletta coach, reckons that a daunting test beckons his team against the former European Cup winners but he urged his players to show their mettle with a gutsy performance in this evening’s first leg at the Hibernians Stadium (kick-off 8pm).
“I want to stress that I’m very proud of this group of players who have succeeded in progressing from the first round of the Champions League,” Zammit said.
“We know that, in front of us, we have an enormous task because, compared to us, we are playing against giants but the most important thing for me is that we earn the respect of our opponents through our performance.
“Of course, we all know that in football, anything is possible. This is a game over two legs and our priority in the home match is to keep the tie alive before our trip to Serbia.”
While Zammit is cautiously upbeat that his team will be up for the challenge this evening, he is wary of the threat posed by Red Star who won their domestic championship at a canter last season, finishing a staggering 28 points ahead of rivals Partizan who, three years ago, beat Valletta 7-2 on aggregate at the same stage of the Champions League.
“Definitely, this will be a very difficult match against a team who ran away with the Serbian title last season,” Zammit said.
“There have been some changes in their squad as Red Star have made some important signings in the close season. We have watched three pre-season friendlies of Red Star, against teams from Ukraine, Slovenia and Romania.
“They are very aggressive and have several technical players. They are a different level compared to B36.
“Although we know that we are in for a tough encounter, we must be positive. We as Maltese teams can’t keep hiding behind the reputation of our opponents in Europe.”
Zammit is convinced that Valletta’s chances of stopping Red Star tonight hinge on their ability to maintain their tactical shape.
“In these kind of games, tactical discipline and concentration are fundamental,” he said.
“From my personal experience, the first 20 minutes and the last 20 minutes are crucial for Maltese teams because we are prone to lose concentration during these segments of the game.
“And, at this level, you are punished for the slightest mistake and we all know that episodes can alter the course of a match.
“We have done our tactical work and I’m sure that my players will be doing their best to implement what we’ve been practising.”
Buoyed by their title success last season, Valletta have made a very encouraging start to the season after reaching the second qualifying round of the Champions League to make up for their Europa League disappointment last year.
It was not an easy task as they went through on away goals after a 1-0 home win and a 2-1 defeat in the second leg last Tuesday with Argentine Federico Falcone scoring both goals against B36.
Despite the narrow defeat, Zammit paid tribute to his players for getting the job done following a difficult build-up.
“Travelling to the Faroe Islands is not easy,” Zammit said.
“The accommodation facilities were not ideal either and it was difficult to prepare for the match in those conditions but this was not the club’s fault.
“Credit to the players for their great effort.
“Our performance in Faroe Islands was very positive. As I had predicted, B36 were a different team from the first leg, they were more constructive in their approach.
“We made some tactical switches during the game which helped us a lot. The way the team adapted to these changes confirmed that the work we are doing to improve our tactical versatility is reaping the desired dividends.”
Malta international Steve Borg is in line to make his first start since rejoining Valletta in the close season as the robust defender has completed his rehabilitation from a fatigue injury that kept him out of the games against B36.
Valletta have also recruited a Lithuanian goalkeeper, Dziugas Bartkus, to provide cover for Nicky Vella who needs cruciate surgery which will keep him sidelined for a long period of time.
Bartkus, who played for Polish club Gornik Leczna last season, reported for his first training session yesterday but his chances of making the City squad today look remote as, at the time of writing, his international transfer certificate had not been received.
Defender Ryan Camilleri is still unavailable due to suspension.
Falcone-Jhonnattann the main threat
For his part, Red Star coach Miodrag Bozovic said he has done his homework on Valletta, identifying Falcone and Brazilian Jhonnattann Benites as their danger men.
Bozovic is not entirely pleased with his side’s preparations.
“Our players didn’t start pre-season training at the same time.
“Some started two weeks ago, others only a few days ago and this causes some problems, also because we have some new players in the squad. We need more time to gel as a team,” he said.
The referee of today’s game Alexander Harkam, from Austria
Source - Times of Malta
Source - Times of Malta