Champions Valletta host Hungarian giants Ferencvárosi TC of Hungary in the second leg of the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League at the Centenary Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 20:00.
A 3-1 defeat in Budapest means that they need a 2-0 win to qualify for the next round. The Citizens would therefore be the first Maltese club to reach the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League after Birkirkara were the first club to reach the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League in 2016/17.
The team which qualifies from this round would probably meet GNK Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia after the latter won the first leg away from home 2-0. On the other hand, the team which is eliminated would move on to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League where they would face the winner of the clash between FC Santa Coloma of Andorra and Astana FC of Kazakhstan. The two teams shared the spoils in a goalless draw in the first leg in Andorra last week.
Addressing the media on Monday, Valletta coach Darren Abdilla admitted it will be no easy game but stressed that beating Ferencvaros was not impossible.
“The (first leg) result gives us courage. We showed that we can play at this level … that we can rise to the occasion. If we do not commit mistakes, we can do it.”
“I am disappointed with the result of the first leg. The goals could have been avoided. When players were no longer afraid of their opponents, we played offensive football .. we managed to score and could have scored more. Players have to believe in themselves and remove the mental block.”
“In the beginning, we were doing well. We made mistakes and conceded goals. In half-time, I told them that we needed to score a goal.”
“It is not easy to change the mentality of players when facing much stronger teams. We have already eliminated a strong team. We will try to win and reach the next stage.”
Abdilla revealed that he would be making some tactical changes but stressed that the approach would not be too offensive in order not to risk conceding goals.
“I am confident ahead of this game. Playing at home gives us a boost. We learned from the mistakes of the first leg. We know Ferencvaros are a very good team but we will give our best to try and advance for the next round. I am confident we will give our best shot and maybe, if luck is on our side, qualify for the next round,” added Abdilla.
Ryan Camilleri added that the players are looking forward with optimism after the first-leg performance. He admitted the team is playing a stronger side but they will be doing their very best to achieve the result they are looking for.
Once again, the Valletta coach is unable to field his best formation as Jonathan Caruana, Santiago Malano and Bojan Kaljevic are ruled out injured while Steve Borg and Nicholas Pulis are suspended – the former after being sent off and the latter after picking a third yellow card in as many matches.
Ferencváros coach and former Ukraine international Sergey Rebrov said he was expecting a very hard game and although his team had a slight advantage over Valletta, this meant nothing.
“We have to be very serious about this game and respect our opponents,” said Rebrov.
Ferencvaros have already eliminated three Maltese clubs in past years. In 1972, they were drawn with Floriana in the Cup Winners’ Cup, defeating the Greens 6-0 in Budapest after Floriana won the first leg 1-0. In 2003, Ferencvaros were paired with Birkirkara in the UEFA Cup with the Fradi winning 5-0 at Ta’ Qali and 1-0 in Budapest. In 2014, Ferencvaros were drawn with Sliema Wanderers in the UEFA Europa League – the first leg ending in a 1-1 draw with Ferencvaros winning 2-1 at home.
In the first qualifying round, Valletta managed to eliminate F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg thanks to a 2-2 draw away from home and a 1-1 draw at the Centenary Stadium. On the other hand, Ferencvaros defeated Ludogorets Razgrad of Bulgaria with a 5-3 aggregate score after beating them 2-1 at home and 3-2 away from home.