Gzira United host Andorran side Atletic Club D’Escaldes in the first leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League first qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 19:00.
The Maroons will be all out to obtain a positive result in their bid to secure a place in the second qualifying round where they would be meeting FK Radnicki Nis of Serbia – a team the Maroons have already met in 2018.
After finishing fourth last season, the squad has been strengthened with the signing of veteran Marcelo Dias and two promising youngsters Andy Borg and Brooklyn Borg. Luis Riascos Torres re-joins the club after a spell on loan with Mosta. But what was more important was the return of a number of players who recovered from long-term injuries, like Ricardo Calixto Correa Duarte, Thiago Espindola and Jackson Mendoza. However, Steve Pisani is ruled out as he is recovering from surgery.
Speaking on Monday, coach Darren Abdilla said he was glad to welcome back these players after a long absence and said that together with the new signings and the return of Riascos, the team should do better than last season.
Abdilla explained that most of the players in last season’s squad did well and that was why the club kept a relatively low-profile in the transfer market. He said that the club was always on the look-out for young promising players and Andy Borg and Brooklyn Borg who joined Gzira United from St. Andrews and Pieta’ Hotspurs respectively fit the bill. Abdilla added that from what he has seen in the friendly matches and if they maintain the right attitude, they could get considerable playing time in the Premier League.
The Gzira coach said that Atletic d’Escaldes are a young club but he still expects them to be a difficult opponent to face considering that like most Andorran sides, they have a number of Spanish and French players in their squad. He said they changed their coach and signed around eight new players and therefore it was difficult to have a clear idea about the team. Therefore, he said it was more important to focus on his team, saying he believed in his players and was looking forward to obtaining a positive result.
During pre-season, Gzira United played two friendly matches, defeating the MFPA selection 5-1 before a 2-2 draw with Hibernians.
Atletic Club D’Escaldes of Andorra, are set for their first ever participation in a European competition after winning the Copa Constitució defeating second division side Extremenya 4-1. In the league, they finished fourth behind champions Inter Club D’Escaldes, UE Santa Coloma and Sant Julia.
Atletic D’Escaldes were founded in 2002 and were promoted from the second division as champions in 2018/19.
This will be the third trip to Andorra for Gzira after eliminating Sant Julia with a 4-1 aggregate score in the 2018/19 Europa League and last season, defeating Sant Julia, this time on penalties in the Europa Conference League. Birkirkara had eliminated FC Santa Coloma in 2010/11 and Valletta had eliminated FC Lusitanos in the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League.
The second leg is scheduled for Thursday 14 at the Estadi Nacional in Andorra la Vella at 19:00.