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Champions look to bounce back against Hibernians

Valletta to seal Saudi deal

Valletta’s Matteo Piciollo (right) is tackled by John Mintoff, of Sliema Wanderers. Photo: Stephen Gatt

Valletta’s Matteo Piciollo (right) is tackled by John Mintoff, of Sliema Wanderers. Photo: Stephen Gatt

Danilo Doncic expects a strong response from his players as champions Valletta look to bounce back from their opening day defeat to Sliema Wanderers when they take on Hibernians at the National Stadium tomorrow (kick-off: 8.30pm).

After winning a dream double at the end of last season, Valletta were installed among the main favourites for this season’s title but the Citizens were given a timely reminder of the tough task awaiting them to repeat last season’s feat when they suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat to Sliema Wanderers.

That defeat has rattled the City players and fans who are surely look to fight back when they face Hibernians tomorrow.

However, Valletta will surely not take their opponents lightly as they face a Hibernians side who opened their campaign with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Pietà Hotspurs and are looking to put behind them a lacklustre 2017-18 season which saw them miss out on European football.

Doncic, the Valletta coach, admitted that it was difficult to explain his team debacle against the Wanderers.

“It’s hard to explain how we lost against Sliema as we dominated possession for much of the match,” the Serbian said.

“Sliema were simply more clinical than us as they scored each time they ventured towards our goal. On the otherhand, we created a lot of chances but could not score. But that match is now in the past and we need to look forward and try to respond against Hibernians.

“The defeat left a mark on the players as it was our first defeat in nine months. This week we worked really hard to ensure there is no repeat of that result against Sliema. I hope the players respond to that setback in the right way.”

This summer, Valletta have only brought in three new players in goalkeeper Yenz Cini, winger Bogdan Gavrila and striker Mario Fontanella but Doncic is till hopeful of adding a couple of players before the end of the transfer window to have more strength in depth.

Doncic’s plea may well be aided by the club’s plans to bring in foreign investment.

As reported by the Times of Malta last month, Valletta are in talks with a group of Saudi investors who are keen on taking an active role in the club.  Sources have told the Times of Malta that an agreement in principle has been reached between the two parties.

It is understood that the Saudi group will take 70 per cent of the Valletta FC shares and their intention is to help the club reach higher levels of performance both on and off the pitch.

This evening, Valletta FC have called an Extraordinary General Meeting where the details of the agreement will be explained to the members.

At the end of the EGM the members will be asked to take part in a vote of approval that if successful will see the committee members close the deal with the Saudi investors.

“Unfortunately, we are struggling with a number of injuries that are curtailing our efforts,” Doncic said.

“Rowen Muscat is out injured while Henry Bonello, Steve Borg and Ryan Camilleri were not at their best against Sliema as they had just returned after recovering from illness. Personally, I hope to be able to bring one or two players before the end of the transfer window as we surely need a longer bench.

For Hibs, the match against Valletta is the first real test to gauge their potential after the Paola club effected a few changes to their first team squad after a poor 2017-18 season.

The Paolites are now under the charge of Italian coach Stefano Sanderra.

The 51-year-old Italian has managed to keep the backbone of the Maltese players that were at the club last season with the exception of Clayton Failla who moved to Floriana.

New contract

Hibs have virtually changed all their overseas players with Brazilian winger Marcelo Dias the only one to retain his place at the club.

Andrei Agius, who has just signed a new four-year contract at the club, said that it was still early days to say how competitive Hibernians can be this season but the match against Valletta will surely be a valid test for them.

“Hibernians are somewhat a work in progress,” Agius said.

“In the close season, the club has made a number of changes. We have a new coach who is playing with a new playing system while we have changed all our overseas players. Added to that the club is trying to promote talented players from our nursery into the first team.

“We are at the start of a new cycle and I am really happy to have been given the opportunity to be part of this new cycle. These are still early days as our overseas players have yet to find their feet but the first indications look very positive but surely the match against Valletta will be our first major test.

“It’s no secret that Valletta are one of the best teams on the island and they will be determined to bounce back from last week’s defeat but we will try and make it hard for them.”

Agius said that the upcoming season will be a good opportunity for some players to establish themselves in the team.

“For a number of Maltese players in our team this season will be a good opportunity to finally establish themselves in the team,” Agius said.

“Players such as Joseph Mbong, Jurgen Degabriele and Dunstan Vella have now the chance to play a prime role in the team and I hope that they take this opportunity with both hands as they have the talent to deliver.

“Added to that we have a number of players coming from our nursery who are showing a lot of potential, such as David Xuereb, Matthew Portelli and Connor Zammit and I feel a lot of responsibility to help these youngsters develop their full potential.”

Programme

Today
National Stadium: 7pm Floriana vs Sliema Wanderers.
Tedesco Stadium: 6.30pm Senglea Athletic vs Mosta; 8.45pm St Andrews vs Tarxien Rainbows.

Tomorrow
National Stadium: 6.30pm Gżira United vs Ħamrun Spartans; 8.30pm Valletta vs Hibernians.
Tedesco Stadium: 6.30pm Pietà Hotspurs vs Birkirkara; 8.45pm Balzan vs Qormi.

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