A win is a must for Valletta as they take on FK Kukësi of Albania in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 18:00.
Following a goalless draw in the first leg in Shkodër, a draw with goals would be enough for the Albanian runner-up, who replace champions KF Skënderbeu Korçë in the competition after the latter were hit by a ten-year ban by UEFA on match-fixing.
The winner will be facing either Olimpija Ljubljana of Slovenia or Qarabağ of Azerbaijan in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League. Qarabağ start as favourites after winning the first leg in Ljubljana.
On the other hand, the loser of the clash between Valletta and Kukësi will meet the loser of the clash between Spartak Trnava of Slovakia and HŠK Zrinjski Mostar of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League. Spartak Trnava won the first leg at home 1-0.
Addressing the media on Monday in the absence of coach Danilo Doncic, Valletta assistant coach Gilbert Agius said he was not surprised that Kukësi are coming to Malta with the sole intention of qualifying for the next round. He said that their opponents were hoping to secure a good result in the first leg but Valletta gave their reply on the pitch.
“We were well prepared and we did well. We were satisfied with the team’s performance but not with the result as we deserved to score at least one goal.”
“Technically they stand a better chance of making it to the next round (of the UEFA Champions League) as a draw could suit them,” added Gilbert Agius.
“We prepared in the best way we could. It is not easy to prepare since there are hardly any teams to play friendly against in this early part of the season.”
“We will try to make Valletta and Malta proud. We must give our hundred per cent to make it to next round. Our players have what it takes to make it.”
Gilbert Agius added that towards the end of last season, coach Danilo Doncic tried to use as much as possible players who were due to stay with the club and not those whose contract was not expiring at the end of the season.
“The first eleven have been playing regularly in the final part of the season. In fact, we had just one new player in line up – Mario Fontanella who has now been playing in Malta for the past three years and therefore does not need time to settle down.”
He said that this was one of the advantages Valletta had over Kukësi who changed a lot of players this summer.
During the weekend, the Albanian runners-up also appointed a new coach Armando Cungu after they decided not the renew the contract of Peter Pacult. Cungu will therefore make his debut on Tuesday.
Agius said that probably Kukësi’s players would be more motivated following the appointment of a new coach but there could be some turbulence due to the changes.
“We have to do our part. We must focus on our performance,” stressed Agius. “I am happy with performance in the first leg. All we needed to have a perfect performance was a goal. We have to repeat our performance. The pitch will then decide.”
Captain Ryan Camilleri said “We showed that we were at par. We could have obtained something better than a draw. Like them, we want to quality for the next round. The pitch will tell.”
As regards the players in the Valletta squad, Camilleri said “All of our players in our squad have experience at international level in some way or another and therefore there is nothing to fear in such clashes.”
He added that it was a wise choice not to make a lot of changes to the squad. “The less the changes in the close season, the better as new players take time to settle.”
In the last six years, the level of the game in Albania improved. Our ambition is to move on to the next round.”
“However soccer is strange. Albanian soccer made big progress in recent years and we believe in our ambitions to make it to the next round. We are coming here to win and reach the next round.”
However Cungu, who had played against Valletta while he was still a player with Teuta Durres in the early nineties, admitted he was a bit surprised with the Citizens’ performance in the first leg.
“I spent five years with this team. I won the championship and we did history when reached four rounds in Europe. We go on the pitch to win and I believe the best team will win,” concluded Armando Cungu.