Hibernians and Gżira Athleta will take centre stage in the BOV Men’s League Play-off Final series for a second successive year, with the opening rubber pencilled for this evening at the Ta’ Qali Pavilion (start: 7.30pm).
The Paolites and the Maroons have played a leading role in this year’s championship and it’s not a major surprise that they are contending the league crown for yet another year.
Hibs head into the series with a great record in a play-off final. In fact, on all four occasions that they contested the championship decider, the Paolites managed to return home with the trophy in their bags.
On the other hand, Gżira Athleta are looking to win their 11th championship crown.
Mario Tabone, the Hibernians coach, gave little importance to his team impeccable record in title showdowns and said that contrary to last year’s play-off-final series, there are no outright favourites this time around.
“It’s true that we have a very good record in play-off finals, but statistics mean very little at this stage,” Tabone said.
“This season, there was an increase in overseas players that made matches much more competitive and I don’t think that there is clear favourite as both teams are capable of defeating each other on the day.
“Gżira Athleta are a very competitive team, especially since the January transfer window when they changed their foreign players. Since then, we only met once against them, a match we lost, and in a way, it leaves them in a bit of an advantage as they know our team very well while we still have to make the most of their weaknesses.”
Hibs player Chad Patus is expecting a very intense battle against Gżira Athleta.
“We are aware that it’s gonna be a very hard-fought series,” the Hibs forward said.
“The final brings against each other two very good teams who will surely give life to a very intense battle. For us, it will be important that we have belief in our abilities and make sure to be prepared for a tough game.
“Our major strength is our team’s chemistry so it’s important to approach the match in the right manner and follow our game plan to the letter.”
Sasha Dimitrijevic, the Gżira Athleta coach, said that the final is evenly poised and believes that his team must play at their maximum if they are to win the title.
“Gżira Athleta did not have the best of starts this season but slowly we managed to turn around our campaign and now we have the opportunity to win the title,” Dimitrijevic said.
“Hibs are a great side with a very good coach and some excellent players. Added to that they have the experience in winning the league title. But I have great faith in my players and if we inject positive energy in our games and we are tactically disciplined we can bring the trophy home.”
Peter Shoults, the Gżira Athleta forward, is expecting a very physical match but is banking on his team young talent to prevail in the series.
“A lot has been said about the contribution of the foreigners that joined our club in January,” Shoults said.
“However, I feel that the Maltese players in our squad were equally decisive this season. We have players such as Matthew Gouder and Nathan Xuereb who have showed their potential in key matches for us this season and hopefully they can give their contribution in the final.
“So far I have four championship medals but I’m still very hungry to win my first league crown with Gżira Athleta.”
Game One: Tomorrow, 7.30pm.
Game Two: Sunday, 4.15pm.
Game Three: May 1, 4.15pm.
Game Four: May 5, 4.15pm.
Game Five: May 8, 7.30pm.
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