Malta Football Association
Title hopefuls face stern tests on opening day – Preview
Aug 16, 2018
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BOV Premier League

The 2018-19 BOV Premier League gets underway on Friday with the first three fixtures from matchday one following by four games on Saturday.

Matchday One features a series of enticing clashes as champions Valletta start their league title defence against Sliema Wanderers, Balzan take on Birkirkara on Friday and Ħamrun Spartans meet Floriana.


Sliema Wanderers vs Valletta (Saturday – National Stadium, 20.30)


Defending champions Valletta, who open their campaign against Sliema Wanderers, look well-placed to challenge fir the title. The Citizens have an aura about them and they are widely considered among the leading contenders.


They have not been busy in the transfer market, retaining more or less the same squad as last season. They have made two new signings – Romanian winger, Gavrila Bogdan Catalin, and Italian striker Mario Fontanella, formerly of Floriana, who has a natural intuition for goal.


Sliema Wanderers will be going all out to make up for their disappointing campaign last season when their lack of depth was exposed.


To overcome these frailties, the Wanderers have reinforced their squad by adding seven players to their ranks – Jean Paul Farrugia (FC Chiasso), Ayrton Azzopardi (Tarxien Rainbows), Ryan Fenech (Balzan), Claudio Pani (Valletta), Brazilian Guilherme Souza da Silva, Younes Marzouk (FC Lugano) and goalkeeper Jake Galea (Ħamrun Spartans).


This will be the 98th encounter between these two aristocrats of Maltese football at the National Stadium where the record favours the Citizens with 46 wins against the 31 of the Wanderers.


Birkirkara vs Balzan – (Friday – National Stadium, 19.00)


Balzan, who finished second last season, look well-equipped to challenge for the championship, moreso after their bright performances in the Europa League.


Balzan had high hopes of winning the title last season but they flatered in the final weeks, losing two of their last the matches against Tarxien Rainbows (3-1) and Hibernians (1-0.


After a difficult start last season, Birkirkara improved under the guidance of Paul Zammit. The latter steered the Stripes to fourth place and a spot in the UEFA Europa League.


Both clubs have been very active in the transfer market.


Balzan have signed five players – Dale Camilleri and goalkeeper Steve Sultana (Ħamrun S.), Nenad Slijivic and Andrija Majdevac, from Serbia, and Ricardo Calixto Correa Duarte (Sliema W.).


On the other hand, Birkirkara acquired the services of Michael Mifsud (Valletta), Eduardo Ferreira dos Santos (Guarani), Marcelo Henrique Franca de Siqueira (Nacional), Uchenna Umeh Calistus (Valletta), Terence Agius (Hamrun S.), Paul Fenech (Balzan), Thiago Brito (Manaus FC) and Danilo Chapoval (Central SC).

Hibernians vs Pietà Hotspurs (Friday – Tedesco Stadium, 20.45)


Hibernians have appointed a new Italian coach, Stefano Sanderra.


After winning the championship in 2016/17, the Paolites had a difficult campaign, failing to qualify for the European competitions. Sanderra’s appointment has raised hopes of an improved league trek.


Clayton Failla has left Hibernians to join Floriana. They have signed Brazilian forward, Tiago Adan Fonseca, who was on the books of Corinthians while experienced defender Andrei Agius has extended his contract for another four years.


The Paolites face newly-promoted, Pietá Hotspurs who are competing in the Premier League for the 15th time in their history. Their main objective is to survive.


The Hotspurs have strenghtened their squad with the sgnings of goalkeeper Nicky Vella (Valletta), Brazilian defender Antonio de Quieroz Machedo Neto (Gżira United) and Nigerian striker Paul Chimezie (Mqabba).

Ħamrun Spartans vs Floriana (Saturday – National Stadium, 18.30)


Ħamrun Spartans are heading into the new season on a wave of enthusiasm following the appointment of Giovanni Tedesco as coach and the arrival of a host of new players.


Tedesco needs no introduction to Maltese football as he has a satisfactory track record with Floriana while he also had a short spell in charge of Birkirkara.


This is a new project for the Spartans and Tedesco’s biggest challenge is to guide the Spartans to qualification for the European competitions.


In the meantime he has signed no fewer than nine players – goalkeeper Manuel Bartolo (San Ġwann), Njongo Doding Priso (Pembroke A.), Antonio Monticelli and Enrico Pepe (Floriana), Ryan Darmanin (Tarxien R.), Matthew Gauci (St Andrew’s), Orestis Nikolopoulos (Karaiskakis), Nicolas Pandiani (Real Aviles) and Carlos Henneberg (Atlanta).


Floriana, who placed fifth for the past three consecutive seasons, have captured experienced wing-back Clayton Failla (Hibernians), Slovenian midfielder Ivica Guberac and Palestinian striker Mohamed Saleh.


Qormi v Senglea Athletic (Friday – Tedesco Stadium, 18.30)


Qormi, back in the top flight after a three-year absence, have one target – to keep their BOV Premier League status. Senglea Athletic, who did well to stay in the top division last season, share the same objective.


Michael Borg and Gaetano Gesualdi from Mqabba are the two main signings for Qormi who have also brought in some new foreigners.


Senglea have added Leighton Grech (Żebbuġ Rangers), Dylan Micallef (Ħamrun S.), and Italian Ferdinando Salvati (Palmese) to their squad.


Mosta vs St Andrews (Saturday – Tedesco Stadium, 18.30)


This is Mosta’s eighth successive season in the Premier League.


Last season, Mosta avoided the relegation play-off by a whisker thanks to a 2-1 victory over Sliema Wanderers in their lastmatch after six consecutive defeats. 


Mosta made use of 21 foreign players during the season, the highest tally in the top division. Their newcomers are Romeu Romao (Valletta), Misael Miranda Gomez (St Andrews) and Renan Abner de Oliveira (Sao Bernardo).


Their season-opening fixture is against St Andrews who reached their objective of avoiding relegation last season. They sealed their mission in their last three outings, winning two (Lija A. 2-1 and Birkirkara 1-0) and drawing the other (Tarxien R. 0-0).


The Saints, this season led by Johann Scicluna, need to improve their scoring record if they are to do better this season... last term they only scored 21 ... an average of 0.8 goals per game.


Their three new signings are Kurt Magro (Mosta), Matthew Woo Ling (Peachtree City), from Trinidad & Tobago, and Jamaican Amoy Brown (Bethlehem Steel).

Tarxien Rainbows v Gżira United (Saturday – Tedesco Stadium, 20.45)

Last season’s revelation side, Gżira United, face Tarxien Rainbows in their league opener. The Maroons have again bolstered their squad, signing Brazilian duo Jorge Pereirea da Silva and Rodolfo Soares, formerly of Hibernians, Thomas Veronese (Mosta) and also made Zack Scerri’s loan move from Hibernians a permanent one.


Coach Darren Abdilla will also be banking a lot on Senegalese striker Amadou Samb who finished as the top scorer in the BOV Premier League with 21 goals in 22 games, six of which were headers and 10 came from the penalty spot.


Tarxien Rainbows seemed to be losing their fight against relegation after 10 consecutive seasons last season but five points from their last three encounters earned them a lifeline as they finished third from bottom to contest the Relegation/Promotion Play-Off against Żejtun Corinthians.


An early goal by James Brincat secured Tarxien’s Premier League status.


The Rainbows have confirmed Jose Borg as coach for this season.

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