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Blues, Greens clash as new cup, European berth at stake

Defeat could see Tedesco quitting job

Floriana’s Ignacio Varela charges forward against Sliema Wanderers in a league match this season.

Floriana’s Ignacio Varela charges forward against Sliema Wanderers in a league match this season.

The two most successful clubs in Maltese football will do battle for the newly-designed FA Trophy to-day as holders Sliema and Floriana face each other in what promises to be a keen clash at the National Stadium (kick-off: 17.00).

For both the Blues and the  Greens the occasion carries great significance, more than just adding another trophy to their already-decorated cabinet. In fact, the winner of this showdown will also earn the right to play in the Europa League qualifiers in summer.

This will be the 15th time that the two Old Firm rivals will meet in the FA Trophy final with Floriana enjoying the upperhand 8-6 in the all-time list.

The Blues hold a slight psychological edge over their opponents today as John Buttigieg’s men prevailed over Giovanni Tedesco’s Floriana in all three league meetings this season.

Buttigieg, however, is not giving too much importance to past encounters and reckons that it will all come down to who will perform best on the day.

“Past results or achievements count little in cup finals,” Buttigieg told a news conference yesterday.

“Everything is decided on the day and whoever performs best will return home with the trophy. It’s going to be a very tough match between two teams on level terms so it’s very difficult to predict a winner here.

“What we can promise is that we will take to the pitch determined to give our all and hopefully that will be enough to secure victory.”

Buttigieg admitted that qualification to Europa League football was crucial for Sliema to make a step forward next season.

“Playing in Europe has always been our objective this season,” Buttigieg said.

“We tried to qualify through the league but the competition for a top-three finish was really fierce. Suffice to say that we had a side like Valletta, the outgoing champions, who only made it after an administrative mishap committed by direct contenders Birkirkara.

“The Trophy is our final chance and victory will provide the club with a timely boost financially. We can also strengthen our options in the squad for the future.”

Buttigieg is boosted by the return of Jean Paul Farrugia. The striker missed the 3-0 defeat of Tarxien in the semi-finals through suspension. However, Nigerian Salomon Wisdom is out as he must complete a two-match ban.

Floriana’s season will only be seen as a success if they lift the trophy, Tedesco argued, also admitting that defeat today could mean the end of his time as Greens coach.

“This is a match that will define our season,” the former Palermo mentor said.

“Like Sliema we also want to secure European football at the end of the season so this is an opportunity we don’t want to miss. We failed to make it through the league and now the FA Trophy is our last chance.

“It will be difficult to breach Sliema’s well-organised defensive wall. They have made life difficult for us in all our three league meetings this season.

“Nobody needs to remind us on the importance of the occasion as apart from the great rivalry that exists between these two traditional clubs, there is also qualification to Europe at stake.

“The only way we have to save a rather low-key campaign is by winning this competition. Failure to do that will leave me with no other option but to take my responsibilities and step down.”

Tedesco said that his players needed to play with intensity and determination to turn the tide in their favour against their Old Firm rivals this evening.

“I’ve told the boys that to win a cup final you need to be ready not just physically but also mentally,” Tedesco, who has a full squad available, said.

“Playing with high intensity and aggression has been the cornerstones of our best performances this season and we need to rediscover those qualities if we are to beat Sliema.

“This is our most important match now and we have a duty towards our fans to give everything we have to ensure we take the trophy home.”

Old-firm finals

1935: Sliema vs Floriana - 4-0
1936: Sliema vs Floriana - 2-1
1938: Floriana vs Sliema - 2-1
1945: Floriana vs Sliema - 2-1
1949: Floriana vs Sliema - 5-1
1953: Floriana vs Sliema - *1-0
1955: Floriana vs Sliema - 1-0
1956: Sliema vs Floriana - 1-0
1958: Floriana vs Sliema - 2-0
1965: Sliema vs Floriana - 4-2
1972: Floriana vs Sliema - 3-1
1974: Sliema vs Floriana - 1-0
1979: Sliema vs Floriana - 2-1
1993: Floriana vs Sliema - 5-0

* after extra-time

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