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Gzira United gets into Europe’s football map

The tiny town of Gzira in central Malta had been a top Google search topic for a couple of hours on Thursday, July 18th. Thousands of football fans around the world wanted to discover where on earth is this Gzira United from. There was a good reason for that: The Maltese have caused a tremendous upset at Europa League qualifiers first round, seeing off Croatian powerhouse Hajduk Split after a heart breaking 2nd leg match in “Poljud” stadium.

Having lost the first tie in Malta a week before, and having conceded a goal early in the second match (just in the 7th minute), Gzira had to score three herself to proceed to the next round. And, guess what, they did it! Newcomer Ivorian striker Hamed Kone, one of the shortest players on the ground, have become a real giant, scoring twice, the last on the dying moments of the match, to make it 1-3 and boost a crazy celebration dance after the final whistle.

The upset was so unlikely to come true, that somebody could make a fortune with a handful of coins. After the first half of the match (with the Croatians still in the lead), a bet on Gzira United to win could return over 200 times your money! Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that there was even one who pushed his luck to this edge.

Gzira United, nicknamed “The Maroons” from their basic jersey color, is a newcomer even to the Maltese football. Only in 2016-17 season they played for the first time ever at the Maltese Premier League level, finishing 7th. Next two seasons were more successful, as the team managed to grab the 3rd place and a ticket to Europa League competition. But as in summer 2018 they were defeated twice by Serbian Radnicki Nis, without even scoring a goal, this summer the trip to former Yugoslavia was somewhat more exciting.

Giovanni Tedesco, Gzira United’s Italian coach, didn’t hide the shock he was going through at the press conference after the match. As all underdog coaches do, he was trying to cheer up his players, and even stated before the second tie that he was convinced they could grab a positive result, but we actually didn’t expect this. A native of Palermo at the island of Sicily, Tedesco (which means… German in Italian language!) is feeling like a nearby neighbor or Malta and is working there from 2014, except a couple of months, where his beloved Palermo club hired his as a caretaker coach.

The key to success is enthusiasm with some financial growth. Club president Sharlon Pace is a former player himself, having played his last five seasons with Gzira United before turning to more administrative duties. Moreover, club CEO Edward Zammit Tabona had made a prestigious strike when announcing that the main sponsor of the club would be JEEP, one of the worldwide leading car manufacturers.

This boosting success pushed the local media to compare Gzira United to English giants Manchester City. Whenever hearing that, Pace used to smile. But after wins like the one in Croatia, he could only nod with acceptance.

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