Following a 2-2 draw in Luxembourg last week, Valletta will be be aiming for a spot in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League as they host F91 Dudelange in the second leg of the first qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 20:00.
Goals by Adel Bettaieb on the 26th and Dominik Stolz on the 45th gave Dudelange a two-goal lead before half-time but Valletta bounced back with goals by Jean Borg on the 64th and Douglas Packer six minutes later.
A 0-0 or 1-1 draw would be enough for the Citizens to progress to the next round where they would face Ferencváros of Hungary or Ludogorets of Bulgaria. The Hungarians won the first leg 2-1.
However new Valletta coach Darren Abdilla is aiming for victory. Addressing the media on Monday, the former Gzira coach said that Valletta will be all out to register a win.
“This is a very important game for the club and for the players. The positive result in the first leg means nothing and to qualify, we need to get another positive result. We will go out to win in order to qualify for the next stage.”
Abdilla admitted they knew little about their opponents. In fact since last year’s impressive run in the UEFA Europa League where they reached the group stage, they completely revamped their squad and there are only three players from that team.
“We were hoping for a positive result as we needed a result which would maintain alive our hopes ahead of the second leg. The fact that we scored twice and managed to get a draw gives us courage. We will not rely on the result of the first leg. We will go out to win.”
“Dudelange have to go all out to win. Their players are of a high level. They have eight players in their squad who could easily be among the foreigners here in the Premier League. They have a few players from Luxembourg and rely mainly on imports from Belgium, France and Portugal.”
“They signed twenty two new players and the fact that we achieved a positive result was also possibly due to the fact that their new players need to gel together. But they have a lot of quality players.”
“In Luxembourg, we believed in ourselves and got a positive result. On Tuesday, if we rise to the occasion, we can do it,” added Darren Abdilla.
The Valletta coach would be unable to field his best formation as apart from Bojan Kaljevic who skipped the first leg as he has undergone surgery, Jonathan Caruana and Santiago Malano are both recovering from injuries while Rowen Muscat is ruled out through suspension after being sent off on Tuesday.
However Abdilla pointed out that even last week, the younger players who were included as substitutes – Shaun Dimech and Nicholas Pulis – played a key role as the team came back from behind.
The Valletta coach added that just like current captain Steve Borg was playing regularly at the age of eighteen, it was now the turn of these players and Jean Borg, who although still an Under-21 player, is now a key player for Valletta.
Meanwhile captain Steve Borg added that in such games, the team which makes the least mistakes goes through. He said that although usually there is a bit pressure after a good result, he is confident ahead of Tuesday’s clash.
Since their first participation in UEFA club competitions, F91 Dudelange reached a further round on three occasions apart the fine run in the UEFA Europa League last season. In 2005/06, they eliminated Zrinjski Mostar from the UEFA Champions League; in 2011/12, they eliminated FC Santa Coloma of Andorra in the UEFA Champions League; in 2012/13, they managed to eliminate Tre Penne of San Marino and Red Bull Salzburg from the UEFA Champions League. Last year, they were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League by MOL Vidi of Hungary with a 2-3 aggregate score but in the UEFA Europa League, they defeated Drita of Kosovo 3-2, Legia Warsaw of Poland 4-3 and CFR Cluj of Romania to make it to the group stage where they finished fourth behind Real Betis, Olympiakos and AC Milan.
On the other hand, Valletta qualified for a second round of a UEFA competition on seven occasions, eliminating Barry Town of Wales in 1999, Keflavik of Iceland in 2009, Tre Fiori of San Marino in 2011, FC Lusitans of Andorra in 2012, La Fiorita of San Marino in 2013, B36 Torshavn of the Faroe Islands in 2016 and SS Folgore of San Marino in 2017.
Last season, Valletta were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round by Kukësi on the away goals rule while in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League, they lost 2-3 on aggregate to Zrinjski Mostar of Bosnia Herzegovina.
The team which is eliminated would be facing the loser of the clash between Nõmme Kalju of Estonia or Shkëndija of North Macedonia in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League. Shkëndija won the first leg 1-0 away from home.