Valletta take on FC Astana of Kazakhstan in the second leg of the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round at the National Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 20:00.
A 5-1 win at the Astana Arena in Nur-Sultan practically handed FC Astana a place in the Play-Off round where they would meet the winner of the clash between BATE Borisov and FK Sarajevo after the team from Belarus won the first leg 2-1 away from home.
However Valletta are determined to bow out of the competition on a positive note with a good performance and hopefully a positive result.
Coach Darren Abdilla had no easy task preparing for these matches over the past weeks, having to deal with several injuries and suspensions. Once again Jonathan Caruana, Santiago Malano and Bojan Kaljevic are recovering from injuries while Steve Borg serves the third of his three-match ban. Joining them on the side lines is goalkeeper Henry Bonello who sustained an injury and is therefore ruled out of Thursday’s clash.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Darren Abdilla admitted that after the result of the first leg, the team was aware of having a difficult task at hand.
“After last week, we know we have a difficult task. However this is a new match which starts with the score 0-0. We aim to do our best in this game.”
Asked whether he expected such a heavy defeat in Kazkahstan, Abdilla said “Definitely not. We prepared for the match in a way so that after the first leg, we would still be in contention. However there were a number of factors which affected our performance and the result. The result does not lie. We committed mistakes, there were other difficulties related to the travelling and the time difference. This is not an excuse but still these factors played part. “
“We expected something more. Their performance against Santa Coloma had given us a bit of hope. However we played our game but Astana managed to penetrate and punish us with that kind of result,” added the Valletta coach.
“We believe in ourselves. We play each game, trying to win. May be that was why we lost 1-5. However all in all our campaign was satisfactory. We eliminated Dudelange and only lost to Ferencvaros. Both teams made it to the Play-Off round of the Europa League. The team got character. We need to reflect and not forget the results we obtained despite the fact that we lacked important players. If we had all the players available and did not suffer such a heavy defeat last week, this second leg could have been different. The team did quite well. We scored in every leg and we showed that we can compete at this level,” concluded Darren Abdilla.
Ryan Camilleri said that the team is looking forward for Thursday’s game, aiming at leaving the pitch with heads held up high and hopefully with a positive result. He added that Astana showed that they are a very good team and considering that in the past four years, they made it to the group stage of European competitions, they are an established team in Europe. However he said that he still believes, Valletta could have done better last week.