Following a most comfortable 4-1 win away from home at the Sportni park Domzale, Balzan start as firm favourites to qualify for the next round as they host NK Domzale of Slovenia in the second leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League first qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 19:30.
A clash with the winner of the tie between FC Vaduz of Liechtenstein and FC Neman Grodno of Belarus in the second qualifying round is at stake. Neman Grodno won the first leg away from home 2-1.
However despite the comfortable lead, Balzan coach Oliver Spiteri was quite cautious.
“This will be a very important game for us in order to continue what we had started. Despite a very positive result and performance four days ago, these mean nothing as we are well aware of the strength of Domzale. We are preparing well for this game as we know what their potential is.”
“Nothing is decided yet. We are not taking the result of the first leg into consideration. We are going to play the ninety minutes. In the first leg, the players were fully concentrated right from the start till the very end and in fact, we even scored a goal in added time. We need to concentrate fully on this coming game.”
“What we told the players is that just like we managed to score four away from home, Domzale can do the same here,” said the Balzan coach.
Captain Paul Fenech added “We need to continue where we had left last week. We need to be fully focussed mentally, as if the game starts from 0-0. We need to repeat the performance of the first leg, nothing less. Despite the score, Domzale are a strong team and they will be all out to bounce back Mentally you have to be prepared even more as your opponent will try harder. “
The squad has been strengthened this summer with the signing of a number of players. In the first leg, goalkeeper Danilo Golovic, Triston Caruana, Jake Grech and Peter Olawale were named in the starting line-up while Ryohei Michibuchi and Manyluak Aguek were included as substitutes.
“Last year, we already had a good foundation and now together with sporting director Vladimir Simovic, I think we did a good job in adding new players in certain positions where we needed to make a leap forward or where we did not have enough options to improve competition between players and therefore raise the level of the players,” said Oliver Spiteri
“We worked hard in the close season and the pre-season was excellent. President Anton Tagliaferro gave us the opportunity to go for a training camp in Zlatibor, Serbia where we also had the chance to play two friendly matches against teams from the top division which placed sixth and eighth last season. In these matches, we could see that things were on the right track. Such games enable you to play at a higher tempo, similar to matches in European competitions. The new players adapted themselves well to our system of play and bonded well with the rest of the players. With regards to the latter, I had no doubts as the players are united, on and off the field of play. Credit goes to the new players who adapted themselves to our system and to the players who were already here who made them feel welcome.”
When asked what were the main factors behind the impressive win in the first leg, Spiteri explained that the one-week training camp in Serbia was key.
“We spent seven days in Zlatibor and then travelled back to Malta where we could continue our preparation. This is the way forward for Maltese clubs. There there were several clubs carrying out training camps. But one should not forget that the players are the protagonists. Tactically you can prepare a gameplan but then you would need to change it after a few minutes. The players were tactically disciplined, ready to fight for each ball, cover up for their team mates and great in taking the chances they created. “
“Domzale were aggressive in the beginning …. they had three or four corners but we did not panic and eventually gained more confidence, sharing the exchanges with our opponents and at times, playing better.”
Oliver Spiteri pointed out the improvement shown by local clubs in European football in recent years.
“Maltese football is no longer what it used to be. Considering the result obtained by Gzira United – a 2-2 draw despite losing several key players; the performance by Hamrun, especially in the first half, when they were denied on several occasions; and the 1-1 draw for Birkirkara following a controversial penalty for Maribor. We need to remove this negativity about football being slow. The truth is that especially in the last three years, we kept the flag flying.”
Balzan are seeking qualification for a second round for the second time in their history after eliminating Kezla of Azerbaijan in the UEFA Europa League in 2018. On the other hand, NK Domzale’s best run in Europe was in the UEFA Europa League 2017/18 when they reached the play-off round, losing out to Marseille.