Following a 1-1 draw in Riga, Hibernians host Latvian champions FK RFS in the second leg from the UEFA Europa Conference League third qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 20:00. A game which would hand either side a place in the play-off round.
Just like one year ago, the Paolites are just one step away from securing a historic place in the play-off round of a UEFA competition. Last season, following a 1-0 win away from home against another Latvian side, Riga FC, Hibs lost 1-2 at the Centenary Stadium, conceding another two goals in extra-time as they had two players sent off. On Tuesday, the Paolites will try to make history by beating RFS and set-up a play-off round clash with Linfield or Partizan Belgrade.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, coach Andrea Pisanu said “Tomorrow is the second part of the game (against RFS). It is a very important game.”
“We worked more on the mental aspect because the game will be tough. We know which kind of game it will be. We have to be ready to fight and believe. It is always about us …. how we interpret the game. There is always a strategy, there is always a plan. We have to be ready to play in our way when we can.”
“We have to stay focussed from the first minute even the first ball can change the game. We have to be focussed, we have to be ready to fight for all the balls. We need to have a big personality because when the level starts to go up in a game like this … because we are now close to the play-offs and the quality and the level of the game starts to go up. We need to have personality … be focussed and sense the game through the ninety five minutes. Focus on what you have to do and stay positive. The guys showed that they can be positive and can have their chance. It is about belief. There are two teams and one has to go through … I say ‘why not us?'” added Pisanu who since taking over as new Hibernians coach led the Paolites in a goalless draw with Shamrock Rovers at home, a 3-2 win over Levadia Tallinn at home and a 1-1 draw away from home and the 1-1 draw with RFS last week.
“We know that they are a very strong team, especially physically and play with a lot of intensity. We have to be good to put the game in our way. Maybe sometime we have to suffer for sure … the game goes up and down … but as soon as we can we have to play our game. Stay in the game, help each other and believe.”
Pisanu is not concerned about recent performances by RFS in domestic competitions after they suffered a 2-3 defeat to SK Super Nova which could cost them the second place in the league as third-placed Riga FC lie two points behind them but have a game in hand.
“The games of RFS are not my business. I am fully focussed on what we have to do. Put pressure on them just by playing our game and be ourselves … be the best part of ourselves. I am not telling the players to change their style or to be someone they are not. They have to be just themselves. They showed that when we are focussed, when we are positive, we can put pressure on anyone. We have to do just like that. Sure, it is an important game but this does not change anything in our approach. We have to go and play our game.”
“At the end of the day, if we deserve, we move (on to the next round), if not, we try again next season.”
In the first leg in Riga, Hibs welcomed back Bjorn Kristensen after serving a four-match ban and at Ta’ Qali, Andrei Agius will be available for selection after serving a five-match ban. Both were suspended, along with Jake Grech and Ferdinando Apap after the game against Riga last season.
“Bjorn (Kristensen) and Andrei (Agius) will be part of the squad. Maybe they are not ready 100% to play the full match but they have to be ready to give some help if needed. They are players with experience who already played this kind of games. They can help the others in a lot of things.”
Thaylor and Kurt Shaw, who is recovering from an injury, are the only players who are unavailable.
Bjorn Kristensen said “As a team, I think that this is a great opportunity but as the coach said we have to go down there focussed and concentrate on the game because it is not going to be easy and it’s 95 minutes and as he said, the first ball can be important as the last ball. We cannot let our excitement kick in and focus on the game 100%.”
With reference to the Riga FC game last year, Kristensen added “We learned from our mistakes last year. It is a different game and a different team. We moved forward from that.”
The match will be controlled by the Ukrainian referee who controlled the Women’s EURO final between England and Germany a couple of weeks ago, Kateryna Monzul. She will be assisted by Maryna Striletska and Svitlana Grushko and fourth official Anastasiya Romanyuk.