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Rivals aim to strike early blow

Valletta midfielder Edmond Agius (left) tries to hold off Floriana’s Christian Cassar during last season’s FA Trophy final. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Valletta midfielder Edmond Agius (left) tries to hold off Floriana’s Christian Cassar during last season’s FA Trophy final. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Maltese football fans are looking forward to an enthralling start to the 2011/12 season as champions Valletta lock horns with rivals Floriana in the BOV Super Cup final this evening at the National Stadium (kick-off 8.30 p.m.).

Encounters between the two neighbouring clubs always en-gender significant interest among their supporters as well as neutral followers of the game.

Unsurprisingly, given their status as defending champions and the quality of their new signings, Valletta are regarded as favourites to see off Floriana but such forecasts are unlikely to unsettle the Greens.

After all, Floriana seem to thrive in the underdogs’ role as they showed on May 22 when they stunned the Citizens to win the U*Bet FA Trophy.

Jesmond Zerafa, the Valletta coach, sees today’s match as an opportunity for his team to make amends for that upset.

“We’re at the outset of a new season and the Super Cup is a chance for the players to atone for the defeat in the final of the FA Trophy,” Zerafa said.

“I believe we’re well prepared for this game. Derbies against Floriana are special and the footballing public eagerly awaits these kind of matches.”

For Valletta, today’s encounter heralds the start of a new season in which they are again expected to capture the major honours.

Their recruitment drive left no room for doubt as to the Citizens’ determination to stay on top as club president Victor Sciriha finally landed his top target, striker Michael Mifsud, plus three foreign players, Brazilian striker William Barbosa, Nigerian forward Alfred Effiong and winger Ousseni Zongo, from Burkina Faso.

Their status as overwhelming favourites to retain the title means that Valletta, who failed to reach the third qualifying round of the Champions League after going down 4-2 to Lithuanian side FK Ekranas, have little margin for error.

“Valletta are always under pressure,” Zerafa said.

“It’s understandable because we have so many high-quality players in our squad, including the best elements of Maltese football. But, you don’t win games with names.

“We set out to win every match we play. We won the Super Cup after beating Birkirkara last year and we will do our best to retain this title for another year.”

The new signings are available for today’s game but Italian midfielder Filippo Savi, who is on trial with the Citizens, will not be considered for selection.

Midfielder Jamie Pace is out as he must serve the last of a three-match ban incurred after the incident-marred FA Trophy final.

Striker Terrence Scerri is also out of the equation after receiving a 13-match suspension for his assault on Floriana midfielder Christian Cassar in the KO showdown.

English goalkeeper Matthew Towns, who signed for Valletta after being released by Floriana, is expected to be in Zerafa’s squad this evening.

With Valletta only four games away from equalling Hibs’ run of 37 consecutive league matches with-out defeat, Zerafa admitted that their quest to eclipse that record is bound to augment the pressure on his players.

“One of our initial targets is to set a new record for the longest unbeaten run in the league,” Zerafa said.

“We’re only four matches away from matching that milestone and this means that there will be added pressure on us. The fifth fixture is against Hibs.

“Every season is difficult. Last year, we had some negative moments but we managed to stay unbeaten.

“All the teams who face Valletta have nothing to lose.

“Floriana have a good team, they have some quality players. This is a derby and they will be determined to start their season with a positive result against Valletta.”

Johan Said, the president of Floriana, again expects his players to play with passion.

“We are approaching this game in our usual way,” he remarked.

“I’m happy that Floriana will be involved in the Super Cup because this shows that we did really well last season.

“If we fail to win the cup, the next morning it will be business as usual. Everyone is aware of Valletta’s potential. The most important thing is that our players give their maximum. I intend to address the squad before the game and I will make it very clear that I expect 100 per cent commitment from each player.”

Said believes that Floriana have learnt their lessons from their Europa League debacle against AEK Larnaca who won 9-0 on aggregate.

“I was the first to assume responsibility for our dismal performance in the first leg of the game against AEK Larnaca,” Said observed.

“In my opinion, Floriana’s 17-year absence from European competitions didn’t help our cause. I wouldn’t describe our experience in the Europa League as a disap-pointment because it could be a blessing in disguise.

“We failed to realise that Floriana were also representing Malta in the Europa League but I think we’ve learned our lessons well.”

After their Europa League exit, Floriana stepped up their bid to improve their squad. Ghanaian goalkeeper William Amamoo is expected to start today after injury kept him out of the two games against AEK Larnaca.

Michael Woods, the Floriana coach, is also hoping to get the all-clear to field new signing Boris Odwong, a former youth player with Sampdoria.

The Greens have yet to receive the international transfer certificate of Odwong who has signed a two-year deal with the club.

Floriana are also set to sign Brazilian striker Marco Amaral while reports suggest that Nigerian forward Shola Haruna, who had been on the verge of joining Qormi, has set his heart on a move to the Greens.

“Since the first leg of our Europa League match, we have doubled the size of our squad,” Said noted.

“I have no doubts that the players have recovered from that setback. The improvement was evident in the second leg as we only lost 1-0 against a club which has a budget of €14 million.

“AEK Larnaca are a better team than Valletta and the fact that we managed to limit them to one goal in the second leg should strengthen our players’ belief that we can offer City a stern challenge.

“Victor Sciriha, a personal friend of mine, has further bolstered the Valletta squad this summer. Again, they are the team to beat.

“I can’t wish Valletta good luck because they’re playing against my team but win or lose, for me it will be business as usual after the game.”

Fans’ seating

The MFA have announced that, for today’s Super Cup, sector D of the Millennium Stand has been allocated to the Valletta fans while sector F will house those of Floriana.

The Enclosure will remain closed due to on-going refurbishment works. Gates open at 6.30 p.m. and tickets can only be purchased from ticket booths at Ta’ Qali.

Ticket prices are as follows: adults €6, kartanzjan holders €4 and children (under 12) €1.

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