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Balzan and Valletta ready for title-winning effort

Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

The 2017-18 BOV Premier League title could be decided today when joint-leaders Valletta and Balzan face Gżira United and Hibernians in their final fixture of the season this afternoon.

With both the championship race and the battle for fourth spot, which could yield a Europa League spot, far from settled the Malta FA took the unprecedented move of staging its final four matches of the season in four different venues, kicking off at 4pm.

Valletta will face Gżira United at the National Stadium while Balzan will play guests to Hibs at the Corradino Stadium.

Fourth-placed Birkirkara will look to defend their position when they face Ħamrun Spartans at the Centenary Stadium while Floriana, who are sharing fifth spot with Hibs, will take on already-relegated Lija Athletic at the Tedesco Stadium.

Surely, all the interest will be focused on the enthralling duel between Valletta and Balzan.

Both the Citizens and the Reds will hope to pick up maximum spoils and hope for a slip up from their title rival to lift the crown, if not they will settle their dues in a mouth-watering championship decider the following week.

Valletta, on paper, might have a slight advantage as they face a Gżira side who are already reached their season objective of an Europa League spot, but coach Danilo Doncic is still not underestimating his opponents.

“We are really motivated as the next 90 minutes could give us the league title,” the Serbian said.

“The team has a very difficult match as we are playing against a Gżira side who is a really quality side. They are the most prolific team in the championship and that says it all about their quality and surely their third placing is not a surprise for me.

“They are led by a very good coach in Darren Abdilla and have a number of Maltese players like Andrew Cohen and Roderick Briffa who have won a lot of trophies so they will be very dangerous.

“Surely we will be more motivated than Gżira as we are very close to win the title. I have a lot of belief in my players and I’m sure that with the support of our fans, who I’m sure will again throng the stadium we can win the match and put the pressure on Balzan.”

Valletta have no selection problems but Gżira will have to do without Spanish midfielder Moises Avila Perez, who is injured, while defender Sacha Borg and Nigerian forward Ndubisi Okoye must serve a one match ban.

On the other hand, Balzan will have to overcome the challenge of a Hibernians side who are still in the running for fourth placing.

The Balzan coach is banking on his team’s excellent record against the top teams to at least take the title race to a decider.

“We are aware on the importance of this match for our club’s title ambitions,” Micovic told reporters.

“Our goal is surely to win the match but it will be far from simple as we face a Hibernians team who in the last few weeks have stepped up their performances and could still finish fourth if results go their way.

“Throughout this season, Balzan have always raised their game when facing the top teams and that is mirrored by our record against the top ranked five teams as we are still unbeaten.

“I hope that tomorrow we can maintain these statistics and at least take the title race to a decider.”

Micovic will face the Paolites without the influential Kadu who must serve a one-match ban.

On their part, Hibernians will be missing towering striker Joao Moreira who is nursing a knee injury.

Meanwhile, the Malta FA has already a plan in place to be able to hold the trophy presentation at either the National Stadium or the Hibs Stadium if the title race is settled today.

The MFA will have the necessary equipment ready at both the National Stadium and Corradino while arrangements are in place so that newly-made Premier League trophy will be able to arrive at the venue shortly after the end of both matches for the presentation ceremony.

Today's programme

Hibernians Stadium
Hibernians vs Balzan - 16.00

National Stadium
Valletta vs Gżira - 16.00

Centenary Stadium
Birkirkara vs Ħamrun - 16.00

Tedesco Stadium
Lija vs Floriana - 16.00

Balzan coach Marko Micovic (right) shakes hands with his Valletta counterpart Danilo Doncic. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaBalzan coach Marko Micovic (right) shakes hands with his Valletta counterpart Danilo Doncic. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

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