All eyes on Ta’ Qali as Hamrun Spartans take on Valletta

All eyes will be on the National Stadium as champions Hamrun Spartans take on rivals Valletta in one of two matches from the BOV Premier League in programme on Friday.

The other clash between Gudja United and Sirens is scheduled at the Tony Bezzina Stadium. Both matches kick-off at 20:00.

After winning their first championship following a thirty-year wait, Hamrun will be hoping to make a statement of intent with a win over the Citizens.

The arrival of Henry Bonello, Luke Gambin, Christian Mercieca, Estonian defender Nikita Baranov and French forward Faissal El Bakhtaoui should strengthen an already strong squad although the influential Matthew Guillaumier is ruled out of the first part of the season due to an injury.

In friendly matches, Hamrun drew 1-1 with Union Gurten and defeated SK Vorwarts Steyr 2-1 in Austria, lost 0-1 to Birkirkara and 1-2 to Gzira, drew 0-0 with Santa Lucia, defeated Balzan 2-1, lost to Mosta 2-4 and beat Nadur Youngsters 3-0.

After a disappointing seventh place last season, Valletta will be eager to bounce back this season.

Led once again by Antonio Jose Cardoso Mendes, who took over mid-way through last season, the Citizens signed Michele Sansone and Christian Gauci, Italian goalkeeper Alessandro Guarnone, three midfielders – Croatian Ivan Curjuric, Brazilian Caio Rocha de Almeida Prado and Ghanian James Arthur, Czech forward Milan Jurdik and welcomed back Italian midfielder Kevin Tulimieri.

Henry Bonello and Ryan Fenech joined Hamrun Spartans and Marsa respectively while Santiago Malano and Leandro Aguirre were not retained. Kyrian Nwoko moved to Ireland on a six-month loan while Jonathan Caruana decided to hang his boots.

In their pre-season, Valletta drew 0-0 with Balzan, defeated Santa Lucia 1-0 and Mosta 4-2, drew 1-1 with Sirens and defeated Mosta 2-1 in another match.

Meanwhile at the Tony Bezzina Stadium, Gudja United and Sirens both aim at a winning start to their Premier League campaign.

When the league was interrupted last season, Sirens were ninth, one point ahead of Gudja who shared the tenth place with Balzan and Floriana.

Following the appointment of Winston Muscat as coach, Sirens made a complete overhaul of their squad, signing goalkeepers Jonathan Debono and Sean Mintoff, Alex Cini, Sacha Borg, Carlo Zammit Lonardelli, Alfred Effiong, Bogdan Gavrila, Fernando Javier Brandan, Kemar Reid, Kemmu Degran Jackson Diego Albanese, Vitor da Silva Vieira, Rei Tachikawa and Carlos Andres Castillo Riascos. Adrian Borg and Jacob Walker were the only two players to be retained from last season.

During pre-season, Sirens played a number of friendly matches. They suffered three 0-1 defeats to Balzan, Gudja and Floriana, drew 1-1 with Valletta and defeated Pembroke and Marsa with identical 2-0 scores.

Gudja United have also appointed a new coach, Thane Micallef and their squad has been strengthened with the arrival of Rodolfo Soares, Leighton Grech, Neil Tabone, Jake Bowman, Ruslan Kisil, Mario Andres Arrieta, Igor Dudarev, Junior Dibola, Abdeen Temitope Abdul, Louis Beland-Goyette, Farid Romero Zuniga and Ito Yasukaze.

In friendly matches, played over the past weeks, they drew 0-0 with Santa Lucia, defeated Sirens 1-0, lost 1-2 to Sliema, defeated Santa Lucia 3-1 in another match and lost 1-2 to Floriana.