Sirens FC will be making their European debut on Thursday as they face CSKA-Sofia of Bulgaria in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa league at the Stadion Bulgarska Armia in Sofia, kick-off at 19:00 CET.
The St. Paul’s Bay side reached this historic objective after placing fourth last season in their first ever Premier League campaign. In the draw which was held earlier this month, they were paired with a much more experienced side and were also unlucky to be drawn to play away from home as in these extraordinary circumstances, UEFA decided that all qualifying round matches would be played in a single leg.
Addressing a press conference at Luzzu Conference Hall in Qawra, Sirens FC president Mark Borg Hedley said that just a year ago, the club was preparing for its first ever adventure in the BOV Premier League and few thought that within a year, Sirens would be taking part in a European competition.
“In the beginning, our objective was similar to that of most clubs who had just been promoted – that of retaining Premier League status. However with how the situation developed and thanks to the hard work and dedication, we not only managed to achieve this target but secured a historic participation in the UEFA Europa League.”
Borg Hedley thanked the committee, the technical staff led by coach Steve D’Amato, the players, the volunteers which help the club, the sponsors and the supporters.
The Sirens president said luck did not favour the club in the draw after being drawn to play CSKA-Sofia away from home.
Due to the current circumstances with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, planning the journey was not easy. Sirens, in fact, would be travelling to Sofia via Zurich – Switzerland, with Hibernians making the first part of the journey with them, on route to Vaduz, Liechtenstein.
Borg Hedley thanked the Malta Football Association for its support and guidance throughout the past weeks.
“Despite all difficulties, the team is determined to do their best on the day. The players are motivated and the club has full faith in them and the technical staff led by coach Steve D’Amato,” concluded the Sirens president.
Since last season, Sirens lost Flavinho Santos to Floriana but they secured the services of Maxuell Maia da Silva from Santa Lucia, former Gzira United and Tarxien Rainbows striker Samba Tounkara who spent the last two years in Oman and Kuwait, former Hamrun Spartans and Gzira United winger Wilfried Domoraud and above all former Malta international striker Michael Mifsud.
Despite the age of thirty nine, Mifsud should still prove to be an important asset for Sirens.
“It was not easy to find such an experienced Maltese player like Michael Mifsud. He will be an important player in the Sirens squad. We believed in his qualities and I am sure his experience will prove useful,” said coach Steve D’Amato.
Sirens could also count on the experience of players like Jonathan Pearson, Ryan Scicluna and Terence Agius who all joined the club this summer along with Under-21 international Jacob Walker. Angel Manuel Bustos returned with the club after a spell on loan with Qormi.
Coach Steve D’Amato believes the squad has been strengthened.
“Compared to last season, which was a positive season for the club and the players, we lost a few players but strengthened the squad with players who should prove to be useful.”
The Sirens coach added “We tried our best to strengthen the squad. Our ambition is to do well once again. It will not be easy to repeat ourselves, considering that we placed ahead of teams like Birkirkara, Gzira and Balzan, but we are aiming at doing well once again. “
Coach Steve D’Amato admitted being paired with CSKA-Sofia was not an easy draw although both other options in the group – Progres Niederkorn of Luxembourg and FCSB (formerly known as Steaua Bucharest) of Romania – were also strong teams.
He said that CSKA-Sofia have already played 230 matches in UEFA competitions compared to Sirens’ first appearance in European football.
“This will definitely be the most important game in the history of Sirens and therefore in terms of motivation, ours will be much larger as they are used to playing in such competitions. “
“When you think about Bulgaria, CSKA is the first club which comes to your mind – having won thirty one leagues and twenty cups. Therefore this will definitely be no easy game for Sirens. They are a far more experienced side.”
“To make things more difficult for us, we were drawn to play away from home. Also having to play in a single leg, away from home, is definitely not an advantage. One has also to consider the fact that we would be playing on natural turf when last season, we played just ten matches on natural turf. We train and play most matches on artificial turf,” added D’Amato.
“We have been working hard ahead of this game and the players are in good physical condition. CSKA are more match-fit, having already played three league matches so far – two wins and a draw.”
“CSKA-Sofia start as firm favourites to qualify for the next round. However for us, this is a big occasion and a big opportunity for the players. What had started as a dream to reach this objective after aiming for just a positive campaign, we started to believe that we could achieve a place in Europe. We were always among the top four throughout the season and therefore I think we deserved it,” said the Sirens coach.
Sirens started pre-season training on July 1st and played five friendly matches in order to achieve the best physical condition possible.
The Sirens coach said his players are highly motivated and revealed that the full squad will be at his disposal as a few players who were suffering from slight injuries have recovered fully.
Captain Ryan Grech added that the new players are settling down well and that the experience of players like Michael Mifsud will definitely help the team.
“This game is the climax after what we achieved last season. A historic game. We are looking forward and are optimistic. We are the underdogs and hope for a good performance and result.”
Goalkeeper David Cassar said there is great enthusiasm within the squad but they are well aware of the strength of their opponents. He said that although Sirens are the underdogs, the match could go either way.
President Mark Borg Hedley thanked AX Hotels, one of the club’s main sponsors, for their constant support.