FA Trophy winners Floriana host FC Petrocub-Hincesti of Moldova in the first leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League first qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 19:00.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, coach Gianluca Atzori said that qualifying for European football was what the team worked hard for last season.
“We dreamed of achieving this objective (of playing in Europe) at the beginning of last season. Thanks to the players, we are now ready to play this very important game.”
“We need to be very careful. They have a strong forward line and therefore this will be a very difficult match for us.”
Atzori is not worried about the fact that several players hardly had any rest since last season. In fact, after the Izibet FA Trophy final, a number of Floriana players joined the Malta national A team and the Under-21 side and were involved in the UEFA Nations League and the UEFA Under-21 Championship qualifiers.
“Actually we were lucky as national team players maintained good physical condition. They were given a deserved one-week rest and then joined the rest of the players for pre-season. We played three friendly matches – two against Hibernians and one against Hamrun – in order for the players to get the necessary playing time ahead of these matches.”
“This is a European competition and therefore we have a tough opponent. We need to be ready but we know that in front of us, we will have a strong team.”
Asked what he thought were Floriana’s chances against Petrocub Hincesti, Atzori said, “Considering their qualities, I believe it will be 50-50. We have grown as a team. Our players have shown a remarkable improvement over the past year. From what I have seen from videos, they have similar qualities as ours and therefore I believe, both teams have the same chances pf reaching the next stage.”
Captain Matias Nicolas Garcia said the players were well prepared to face Petrocub Hincesti.
“We will be facing a good team but will play our game. We will try to do our best as a team to obtain a positive result at home.”
“Since playing the first match last season, the objectives were to win the league or at least qualify for the Europa Conference League. We missed out on the league but won the FA Trophy.”
This summer, Floriana lost Malta international duo Ryan Camenzuli and Brandon Paiber together with goalkeeper Manuel Bartolo. The club signed four new players, so far, namely goalkeeper Duncan Formosa, James Scicluna, Under-21 international Carlo Zammit Lonardelli and Italian defender Lorenzo Trillò.
Gianluca Atzori said that he made a specific request to the club to sign young promising players.
“Signing young promising players was a specific request I made as they enable the club to grow further. We did lose important players – either due to the club’s decision or due to their personal choice. I asked the club to sign only players who are better than the ones we have. Obviously this was not easy to satisfy my request in a matter of a few days. I am glad that almost all players who enabled us to reach this stage are still with us. However in the coming weeks, the squad will be strengthened further.”
The former Sampdoria coach will have the full squad at his disposal with the sole exception of Zachary Cassar who sustained an injury in the friendly against Hamrun.
Meanwhile newly-appointed team manager Manolito Micallef said that this was an important match for the club. He said that this was the fruit of the club’s objectives last season and that it would provide an opportunity to the younger players in the squad to play in European football.
Micallef added that the team prepared for this tie with the same intensity it had been training throughout the past campaign with focus being mainly on themselves rather than their opponents.
“We believed in this team, right from the start. We believed in the young players in our squad and their qualities,” said Manolito Micallef.
With regards to his role, Micallef said this was an honour for him. “I always dreamt of playing for Floriana and then continue working for the club after my playing years were over. I am looking forward to working as team manager, having experienced working with several team managers throughout my career as a player, knowing well what players expect from the team manager.”
Floriana’s opponents on Thursday, FC Petrocub-Hincesti, were founded in 1994 and in the past five years, obtained three third placings and two runner-up spots in the Moldovan top division – the Divizia Nationala. They finished second last season, six points behind FK Sheriff who had reached the group stage of the UEFA Champions League last season.
Petrocub have been taking part in UEFA competitions for the past four years and after being eliminated from the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League in their first three attempts, last season, in their first attempt in the UEFA Europa Conference League, they eliminated Sileks of North Macedonia in the first round but were eliminated by Sivasspor of Turkey from the second qualifying round.
In the only encounter between a Maltese and a Moldovan club, Sheriff Tiraspol had eliminated Sliema Wanderers from the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League in 2005.
The second leg will be played at the Stadionul Zimbru in Chisinau on Thursday 14 at 19:00. Winners advance to the UEFA Europa Conference League second qualifying round where they would face either Laçi of Albania or Iskra Danilovgrad of Montenegro.