Darren Abdilla upbeat as City go in search of away goal at Astana Published on: 08-08-2019

Preview Astana vs Valletta

Valletta start their quest of a historic qualification to the Europa League play-off round this afternoon when they take on Astana in the third qualifying round first leg tie in Kazakhstan (kick-off: 4pm).
The Citizens made the long trip to Kazakhstan earlier this week with their eyes firmly set on trying to secure a positive result that would put them in a strong position ahead of the second leg at the Centenary Stadium next week.
Valletta coach Darren Abdilla is aware of the threat posed by an Astana side which in the last five season has always managed to reach the group stages of both the Champions League and the Europa League. But he still thinks he has seen enough from his players to look at today’s match with optimism.
“We are heading into this time with a positive mindset,” Abdilla told the Times of Malta.
“There are no illusions in our camp on the strength of Astana who have won their country’s championship in each of the last five seasons and besides that, they have reached the group stages of both the Champions League and the Europa League.
“But I’m encouraged by my team’s performances in Europe this season where we showed that we are capable of holding our own against stronger opposition and I have no doubt that if
we perform to our best we can have our say in this tie.
“Astana are not showing the same level of football of previous years, as mirrored in their elimination of Santa Coloma of Andorra where they found some difficulties, so hopefully we can turn the impossible into possible.”
One encouraging statistic for Abdilla in his team’s European voyage this season has been the fact that they always manage to score away goals in both their ties against Dudelange, of Luxembourg, and Hungary’s Ferencvaros.
It’s no surprise the Valletta coach wants his team to at least score a goal in Kazakhstan today.
“It’s very important for us that we try and get at least one away goal as that would possibly put us
in a good position ahead of the second leg,” the former Gżira United coach said.
“The main goal is that we keep the tie open ahead of the second leg. So far we managed to score twice against Dudelange in Luxembourg and netted a late goal in Hungary against Ferencvaros and it will be important to do the same against Kazakhstan.
“The secret behind this is the players’ belief and hopefully they will take the pitch tomorrow with a positive mindset that they can cause problems to Astana.” Abdilla will again be without team skipper Steve Borg who is serving the second of a threematch ban while Bojan Kaljevic, Santiago Malano and Jonathan
Caruana are all ruled out by injury.
On a brighter note, Brazilian midfielder Douglas Packer has recovered from a back problem and is available while Nicholas Pulis returns from suspension.
The Valletta coach said that his only concern is whether his players will be able to overcome the jet-lag
of their long trip to Kazakhstan. “I’m a bit concerned whether the players will be able to make a full recovery from a 17-hour trip to Kazakhstan,” the Valletta coach said.
“There is very little time for their bodies to also adapt to a different time zone. In fact, Kazakhstan is four hours ahead of us so it’s not normal for them to have lunch at 1pm when their body clock is feeling that it’s still 9am.
“But we need to cope with these problems and think positively. We have recovered some key players for this match and the new signings are increasingly adapting more to our playing system and we can only get better with more matches they play.”
Abdilla said that Astana’s real asset is their collective strength and said his opponents will be in a far healthier physical situation having already played 21 matches in their domestic league.
“Astana will have the edge from a physical point of view as they are midway through their championship, having played already 21 matches,” Abdilla said.
“We will have to be careful to cover a lot on the flanks as they have some fast wingers who are
always looking to create opportunities for their central striker. “It’s no surprise that their team is mostly made up of players coming from countries who in the past formed part of former Soviet Union republic so they are very fast and technical.
“But they too have limitations especially in defence. From the matches I saw, they tend to be fragile at the back so we need to make sure to make the most of the chances that come our way.
“It’s going to be a difficult match but we’re ready for this challenge.” 

Source: timesofmalta.com