Giovanni Tedesco is urging his players to show no fear as Gżira United open their Europa League campaign when they host Croatian giants Hajduk Split at the Centenary Stadium this evening (kick-off: 6pm).
The Maroons may be starting the first qualifying tie as the underdogs against a Hajduk side who have made no secret of their goal or reaching the group stages of the Europa League for the first time since 2010.
But Tedesco is not letting his opponents’ superior pedigree effect his team’s mindset and has vowed to try and achieve a positive result ahead of next week’s second leg.
“We are looking forward to this tie against Hajduk Split,” Tede-sco told the Times of Malta yesterday.
“Playing in European football is the dream of every professional and we are determined to try and give the best we can for ourselves and more importantly for our club.
“Hajduk Split are a very strong team who are heading into the tie in a much better physical condition than us as their league championship kicks off on July 20.
“Our mindset for the match is very clear. We are going out to play our game and try and achieve a positive result that would enable us to head for the second leg in Split with a genuine chance to progress. I have no plans to travel to Croatia for a holiday.”
Tedesco is no stranger of European feats since starting coaching in Maltese football.
In fact, the former Perugia and Genoa midfielder will remain in the hearts of his former club Birkirkara after helping the Stripes to a famous win over English side West Ham at the National Stadium a few seasons ago.
We need to have the courage to try and hurt them with the pace and power we have in attack
After leaving Ħamrun Spartans last May to join the ambitious Gżira, Tedesco brought in four new players in left back Arthur Oyama, formerly of Floriana, midfielder Hamed Kone, of the Ivory Coast, Elvis Sakyi, of Ghana, and Brazilian striker Jefferson, who last season was on the books of Sliema Wanderers.
The Italian coach has almost a full squad available for today’s match with the exception of forward Luca Brincat who sits out of the match with a muscle problem.
Tedesco said that Hajduk are a very offensive-minded side with a nucleus of talented young players but he pointed out their defensive department as one of the weak points his team must try to exploit this evening.
“Hajduk are a team that was created to play attacking football,” Tedesco said.
“If you had to look at their statistics last season they scored 51 goals but conceded 40. That shows you that while they are very good when pushing forward they tend to concede a lot of goals and we must make the most of that.
“We need to have the courage to try and hurt them with the pace and power we have in attack. We’ll try and press them high and try and catch them with quick transitions.
“It will be vital that we are clinical with the scoring opportunities that come our way.”
Hajduk Split arrived in Malta on Sunday night and held their first training sessions in searing heat yesterday.
Coach Sinisa Orescanin will be without three important players for today’s match as goalkeeper Josip Posavec is still on holiday after playing for Croatia in the Under 21 European Championships that were held in Italy last month.
Central midfielder Mijo Caktas and right back Josip Juranovic, the club skipper, are both out with injury.
Orescanin is likely to turn to a familiar face to Maltese football for today’s match in Gambian midfielder Hamza Barry.
The powerful midfielder was on the books of Valletta between 2013 and 2015 before heading to Cyprus to join Apollon Limassol where he stayed there for another three years before joining Hajduk in 2016.
Hajduk are one of the most prestigious clubs in Croatian football, winning the national title six times, with the last one dating back to season 2004-05.
Their last domestic success came in season 2012-13 when they managed to win the Croatian Cup for the sixth time in their club history.
Gżira United: J. Haber, A. Oyama, R. Soares, F. Barbosa, S. Borg, G. Conti, A. Cohen, E. Sakyi, H. Kone, Jefferson, A. Samb.
Hajduk Split: T. Duka, S. Jurić, A. Ismajli, O. Svatok, D. Bradarić, B. Jradi, D. Nejasmic, H. Barry, I. Delić, A. Gyurcso, Jairo.
Referee: Gal Leibovitz (Israel).