The two finalists of this season’s Gatorade League will be known tonight when the second legs of the two Elite Round play-off semi-finals are played at the Corradino Pavilion.
Ħamrun Spartans and Luxol will be looking to preserve their slender first-leg advantage when they take on Lija and Valletta, respectively.
On paper, the most enticing tie should be that between Luxol and Valletta as both teams look determined to make progress and make up for their recent upsets in the second phase of the league.
A goal, 35 seconds from the end of the first leg, gave Luxol a narrow 6-5 win over Valletta.
This was a thrilling encounter between two prepared teams that also showed great character and a never-say-die attitude.
Frane Despotovic was Luxol’s best player as he notched a poker while Glenn Bonello and William Barbosa got the other goals.
For the Citizens, Dylan Musu notched a brace while Mohammed Elamari, Cristian Cuadros Silva and Dejan Bizjak were also on the mark.
These two teams have met each other on three occasions during the regular season.
In the Super Cup, Luxol had the better of Valletta 9-5 while in the league encounters, the Whites beat the champions 7-1 only to lose the Elite Round fixture 4-1.
Valletta will be relying on the form of Slovenian international Bizjak and experienced players such as Xavier Saliba, Jovica Milijic and Musu to overturn the deficit in the second leg today.
Luxol will be going all out to defend their advantage with player-coach Despotovic again expected to play a leading role for his team.
Meanwhile, Lija will be upbeat about their chances of advancing to the final after last week’s positive performance against Ħamrun.
Although they take a 7-5 advantage into the second leg, the Spartans are unlikely to underestimate their opponents who were a hard nut to crack in their first leg.
The Spartans missed a host of scoring opportunities on the occasion, also failing to capitalise from the penalty spot on four occasions. They were also unlucky to hit the post twice as at times during the match Lija’s keeper saved his team with a string of fine saves.
Lija launched fast and effective counter-attacks which proved crucial in critical periods of the tie.
The Spartans had Brazilian duo Madson Caetano and Raphinha helping themselves to a double each while Andy Mangion and Jason Mifsud also put their names on the scoresheet.
Endrit Kaca and Chavi Montes Burgos netted a brace for Lija with Chris Cardona scoring the other goal for the side.
In these double headers, the team with the best aggregate result qualifies for the final. If, at the end of the second leg, the match ends in a draw, extra-time will be played followed by penalties.
Semi-finals (second legs 20.00 Valletta vs Luxol; 22.00 Lija Athletic vs Ħamrun Spartans.