Euro Cup heralds new season
Miller and Woods set for official debuts
Less than a month after the 2011/12 season drew to a close with Hibs beating Qormi in the U*Bet FA Trophy final, Maltese football makes a swift re-appearance on the local sporting agenda with the start of the 2012 Euro Cup.
This pre-season tournament is aimed at assisting Maltese clubs in their preparations for European competitions.
Four teams, Valletta, Hibs, Birkirkara and Floriana, will take part as after a lapse of several years, Malta has reclaimed an additional slot in the Europa League thanks to improved results on the continent from our teams.
For league champions Valletta, their opening Euro Cup encounter with rivals Floriana this evening marks the start of Mark Miller’s tenure as coach.
The City fans must be relishing the prospect of gleaning some indications about their team’s new playing style under the highly-rated Briton who has taken over from Jesmond Zerafa.
Miller is expected to field three new Brazilian players who signed one-year contracts with Valletta while a host of players who were loaned out to other clubs last season are also available for selection.
Goalkeeper Manuel Bartolo, who last season was on loan at Floriana, is training with the Citizens and could play against his former team.
Valletta are also trying to engage the services of a Dutch goalkeeper ahead of their commitments in the Champions League qualifiers.
Floriana, who gained an Europa League berth after finishing fourth in the league last season, are limping towards a new campaign due to the uncertainty caused by the decision of Johan Said to step down from the club’s presidency.
Pre-season training is being led by Ivan Woods who has answered the club’s call to act as player-coach on an interim basis.
Woods has been doing his best to keep the team focused but his options are very limited due to the departures of some key players from last season.
Swedish winger Andre Grabowski is the only foreigner who has been training regularly so far as Argentine midfielder Pablo Doffo has yet to return from his holidays.
John Mintoff has rejoined Sliema after his loan expired, while Malcolm Licari has left the club.
Tomorrow, Hibernians and Birkirkara meet in the second match of the tournament.
Like Floriana, Hibs and Birkirkara will compete in the Europa League.
Michael Woods will make his bow as Hibs coach as he was named as Miller’s successor.
The Paolites retained the same squad of last season with the exception of defender Aaron Xuereb and winger Peter Anizoba whose contracts were not renewed.
Tomorrow, Woods can bank on two overseas players only, defenders Jason Vandelannoite and Rodolfo Soares. Brazilian trio Luis Edison Tarabai, Jackson Lima and Marcelo Dias have yet to return from their holidays.
Steve Pisani, who has just concluded a short trial in Slovakia, is unlikely to feature for Hibs against Birkirkara.
Stripes coach Paul Zammit is not expected to have too much changes in his squad for the time being.
Midfielder Gareth Sciberras is out with a fractured finger as Jorge Santos Silva and Rodrigo Pereira, Shola Haruna and Nikola Vukanac have all been retained and will be involved in this pre-season competition.
Meanwhile, the Malta FA yesterday announced changes to the fixtures list of the quadrangular Euro Cup.
The Valletta-Hibs match, originally scheduled for Matchday Three, was brought forward to June 25 at the Centenary Stadium.
The changes hit Birkirkara badly as now they will have to play two matches in the space of 48 hours between Tuesday, June 26 and Thursday, June 28.
Today – Floriana vs Valletta.
Tomorrow – Hibernians vs Birkirkara.
June 25 – Valletta vs Hibernians.
June 26 – Floriana vs Birkirkara.
June 28 – Birkirkara vs Valletta.
June 29 – Hibernians vs Floriana.
Note: All kick-offs at 18.30.