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Busuttil looks to lift Hotspurs

Floriana vs Pietà (today, National Stadium at 2 p.m.)

Carmel Busuttil will make his official debut as Pietà Hotspurs coach this afternoon when he leads his side against Floriana in the final fixture of the first round.

Busuttil, who replaced Italian Davide Vittorio last month, faces a tough task in changing the fortunes of the bottom-placed Hotspurs who had a nightmarish start to their Premier League campaign having only collected two points.

The former Malta skipper already had a stint in charge of a Premier League side. In season 1997-98 he was appointed player-coach of Sliema Wanderers. Last year, he was Sta Lucija coach in Division Three.

"I'm certainly relishing this challenge," said Busuttil.

"Coaching in the top-flight has always been my main objective and I want to make the most of it. Our position in the standings is not healthy but the players have shown great commitment in training. I think we can do better in the second round.

"Floriana are a very good side, pushing for a place in the top-six. I'm expecting a difficult match for us but Pietà', too, have the quality to do well. Perhaps, our main desire is to avoid relegation at this stage but we have to start winning points fast."

The Hotspurs will be without Daniel Theuma who is nursing a hamstring injury.

Italian defender Angelo Tasca has left the club and Pietà are currently giving a trial to a Tunisian U-19 forward. He could be included in Busuttil's squad if his papers are filed in time for this clash.

After the exit from the FA Trophy last month at the expense of Mosta, Floriana will be looking to lift their spirits with a win against the Hotspurs. Three points would relaunch the Greens' challenge for a top-six berth.

Floriana are currently trailing sixth-placed Sliema in the standings and cannot afford to drop any points if they are to remain on course for a place in the Championship Pool.

Floriana will be without midfielder Manolito Micallef, who is suspended, but striker Adrian Mifsud returns after missing the St George's match.

Msida St Joseph vs Marsa (tomorrow, Tedesco Stadium at 12.45 p.m.)

Msida start favourites to bag three points that would all but seal their place in the Championship Pool this season. The Saints are second in the standings on 20 points and victory against struggling Marsa will probably guarantee them a place in the top six for the second year running.

Last week, Msida showed their true mettle in salvaging a point at the death against Sliema with Tyrone Farrugia hitting home the equaliser one minute from time.

Tomorrow, they will be without two key players as Ibrahim Babatunde and Peter Pullicino are suspended. The absence of the in-form Babatunde could be a blow for the Saints against a Marsa side that made life difficult for leaders Marsaxlokk last Sunday before crumbling to a 4-0 defeat after having Jeremy Dalli sent off just before half-time.

Dalli is out of this match but Graham Bencini should return to bolster the defence, provided he passes a late fitness test.

First round result: Marsa vs Msida St Joseph 0-1.

St George's vs Sliema Wanderers (tomorrow, Tedesco Stadium at 2.45 p.m.)

Sliema Wanderers look set to return to winning ways when they entertain lowly St George's in the weekend's final match.

The Wanderers are still in search of their first win after three matches, following defeats to Marsaxlokk and Valletta and last week's draw to Msida St Joseph.

Placed in an unfamiliar sixth position, the Blues have no other option but to start winning matches to get back to the upper echelons in the standings.

Coach Ray 'Zazu' Farrugia was heartened by his players' non-stop running and effort against Msida last week and will be hoping for more of the same tomorrow. However, he cannot name his ideal formation due to a long list of injuries.

Stefan Giglio (ankle), Mauro Di Lello (virus), Claude Mattocks (calf), Noel Turner (knee) and David Carabott (head injury) are ruled out of the match. Zdenek Svoboda and Jeffrey Chetcuti are doubtful.

St George's welcome back forward Edoardo Do Nascimento. The Brazilian missed the 3-0 defeat to Hibernians through suspension.

But defender Renato Conceicao and midfielder Clive Brincat are out after receiving a one-match ban.

First round result: Sliema Wanderers vs St George's 1-0.

Football milestones...

Malcolm Licari (Marsaxlokk) played his 300th official match in local football last weekend. Licari started his career with Kirkop United before he moved to Pietà Hotspurs. He played most of his matches for Pietà - 202.

Chucks Nwoko (Sliema Wanderers) will play his 250th Premier League match. Nwoko spent most of his career with Birkirkara, 229 matches. His debut was on August 26, 1995, for Birkirkara in a match against Floriana.

Jonathan Holland (Birkirkara) played his 200th Premier League match against Valletta last week. His debut was on February 4, 1995, for Floriana against St George's.

Omar Borg (Msida St Joseph) will play his 100th Premier League match this week. His debut was on December 21, 1997, for Naxxar Lions against Hibernians.

Malcolm Licari's goal for Marsaxlokk against Marsa last weekend was his 100th goal in his career. Licari scored 81 goals in the Premier League, seven in Division One, four in Division Three and eight in the FA Trophy. Most goals he scored for Pietà Hotspurs, 79 in all.

Data compiled by Rinus Dahles, rdahles@onvol.net

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