Hamrun Spartans host Lincoln Red Imps on Tuesday

Hamrun Spartans host Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar in the first leg of the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League at the Centenary Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 18:45.

Led by Italian coach Alessandro Zinnari, who replaced Luciano Zauri earlier this summer, the Spartans will once again launch a quest to secure a historic place in the group stage of a UEFA club competition. They had gone close in season 2022/23 when they reached the play-off round of the UEFA Europa Conference League, losing out to Serbian giants Partizan Belgrade.

This year, the first opponents for Hamrun are Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar. Despite coming from a much smaller country than Malta, Lincoln Red Imps are ranked higher than the Spartans considering that they have been participating uninterruptedly in UEFA club competitions since 2014 and in August 2021, Lincoln became the first club from Gibraltar to ever reach the group stages of a European club competition after defeating Latvian champions Riga FC in the play-off round of the UEFA Europa Conference League.

Therefore Hamrun’s task is far from being an easy one.

In the past weeks, goalkeepers Federico Marchetti and Tom, Ognjen Bjelicic, Christian Rutjens, Yuliyan Nenov, Nemanja Kristic, Seth Paintsil, Jonny and Joseph Zerafa were not retained or moved elsewhere.

In fact, with regards to foreign players, the only ones to be confirmed were Roko Prsa, Emerson Marcelina, Ederson Bruno Domingos and Elionay Freitas da Silva. On the other hand new arrivals include Marcelo Junior Barbosa who returns with the club after a spell with Nadur Youngsters, former Santa Lucia goalkeeper Celio, defender Mayron, midfielder Wendel Barros, attacking midfielder Talison and forwards Raphael Lopes and Vitao.

The club focussed particularly on youths as they signed two Malta Under-21 internationals from Santa Lucia – Mattias Ellul and Daniel Letherby and welcomed back Matthias Debono, Sven Xerri and Shaisen Attard who were on loan with Naxxar Lions, Santa Lucia and Gudja United respectively.

Addressing the media on Monday, coach Alessandro Zinnari expressed his satisfaction for being appointed coach of Hamrun and thanked the president and the club for the work done to strengthen the squad.

Zinnari said he was happy with the squad at his disposal, stressing that he preferred focussing on the squad rather than the individual players. He added that although some players had left the club, the bulk of the Maltese players was still there.

Speaking about this double-header against Lincoln Red Imps, the Hamrun coach said “These are two finals for us. Lincoln is a really good squad. They are well-organised. Their coach, from my point of view, did a really good job last season. It will be a tough match but it will be an open match: we will work hard to take our chance.”

The Spartans started their preparation ahead of these commitments last month, playing two friendly matches against Floriana and Sliema Wanderers.

“With regards to the physical condition, I am happy. We worked hard although obviously they are still not hundred percent with regards to the physical aspect. We played friendly matches and worked well during the pre-season. With regards to the new players, most of them are Brazilian players. They need some time to adapt themselves but there are no particular problems so far.”

Zinnari should have the full squad at his disposal.

Captain Steve Borg added that the players are looking forward for these matches with optimism.

“I believe in the team. We aim at qualifying for the next round and therefore we will be going out for these games, aiming to win. We know how important it is both for us as players and for the supporters.”

Borg went on to say that although he believes Hamrun had what it takes to prevail, he agreed with Zinnari that it will be no easy match.

Hamrun’s opponents on Tuesday, Lincoln Red Imps Football Club play in the Gibraltar National League and are the country’s record champion with twenty seven league titles, including fourteen consecutive titles between 2003 and 2016.

They won nine matches and drew seven games out of the 44 matches in European football.

In the 2020/21 campaign, they eliminated Fola Esch from the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round but were then eliminated by CFR Cluj in the second qualifying round. They entered the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round but were eliminated by Slovan Bratislava and in the Play-Off round of the UEFA Europa Conference League, they defeated Riga FC to qualify for the group stage where they were drawn in a group which included FC Copenhagen, PAOK and Slovan Bratislava.

The following season, they were eliminated by Tobol of Kazakhstan from the UEFA Europa Conference League second qualifying round after eliminating Shkupi of North Macedonia in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League while last year, they were eliminated by Qarabag from the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round and after being awarded a bye, they were eliminated by Ballkani of Kosovo from the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League.

In the Gibraltar Football League last season, Lincoln Red Imps won the championship after finishing two points ahead of St. Joseph’s and won the Rock Cup after beating Europa FC 3-0.

The return match between Lincoln Red Imps and Hamrun Spartans will be played at the Europa Point Stadium in Gibraltar on Tuesday 16, kick-off at 18:00.

Should Hamrun Spartans eliminate Lincoln Red Imps, Hamrun Spartans will be playing Qarabağ FK of Azerbaijan in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League. The first leg will be played at home on July 23/24 with the return match scheduled for July 30/31.

On the other hand, should they lose out to Lincoln Red Imps, Hamrun Spartans would face the losers of FC Ballkani of Kosovo vs UE Santa Coloma of Andorra in the UEFA Conference League Champions Path.

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