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Defending champions Birkirkara face Swieqi in Assikura Women’s League opener

Published: Tue 20 Sep 2022, 11:00
(c) Domenic Aquilina
(c) Domenic Aquilina

The 28th Maltese women’s league is set to launch on Tuesday as defending champions Birkirkara will open their commitments with a tricky test against Swieqi United at the Centenary Stadium (kick-off: 8.30pm).

This season’s championship will be sponsored by Assikura Insurance Brokers PCC Limited as the local women’s game ushers into a new era.

For the first time ever, the Women’s and the Women’s Youth competitions will have a specific sponsorship which is a sign of acknowledgement of the growth of the women’s game on our shores.

The Stripes start as favourites to add another league trophy to their cabinet after winning their 10th in style, last season.

Led by coach Melania Bajada, Birkirkara won 16 of their 18 league matches as they lifted the title unbeaten.

In the process, they matched Hibernians’ all-time unbeaten record of 69 matches which they can beat should they register a positive result in the league opener against Swieqi.

The new season will see Birkirkara coached by former Hibernians women and Raiders Luxol coach Jose Borg, replacing Bajada, who returned from his short stint in Canada at Manitoba FC.

Borg’s impact at the club was immediate as the former men’s Premier League coach guided Birkirkara to a historic 2-1 win against Northern Ireland’s Glentoran in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

For the 2022/2023 campaign, Birkirkara has kept faith with the core of their squad while adding three foreigners to their team.

The Stripes brought in Canadian forward Sofia Iaderosa. The 2003-born player is at the end of experiences in Canada, United States and Spain and has already featured with the Stripes in the Champions League.

In addition, Birkirkara also signed Italian duo Marta Grosso and Gaia Milan who will bolster the team’s midfield department. Last season, both Grosso and Milan were at Serie B club Tavagnacco where they team mates of Malta international Nicole Sciberras.

Swieqi, on their part, are relishing the opportunity at another title shot after placing second last season with 38 points in 18 games.

On the final day of the season, they came close to halt Birkirkara’s unbeaten run while they reached the domestic cup final before losing to the same opponents.

The Owls made some important changes to their squad ahead of the new season. They appointed Dutch coach Judith Kuipers.

Kuipers was a player in the top-flight of the Netherlands with the likes of SC Heerenveen – whom she also coached – and VV Alkmaar. She also coached the Cooks women’s national team during the 2019 Pacific Games.

Swieqi’s busy transfer activity include the arrivals of former Birkirkara defender Mariah Sciberras and experienced midfielder Jasmine Vella Turner from Mġarr.

They also signed three new foreign players which will join defender Rafanny Mendoza and forward Fernanda Peinado who were with the club last season.

Ghana players Cynthia Konlan and Rebecca Atinga, who both played in the recent U-20’s Women’s World Cup, and former Portuguese top-flight player Tatiana Dabney from the United States are their latest additions.

A pivotal player in their squad will be captain Dorianne Theuma, named MFA Women’s League Player of the Year last season for a record eighth time in her career.

The league will continue Wednesday with the remaining games to be played at the Centenary Stadium (San Ġwann vs Mġarr United) and Mġarr Ground (Mtarfa vs Hibernians).

Mġarr United looked set to be Birkirkara’s main antagonists for the title before a poor streak of results saw them finish the 2021/2022 season in third place.

The Greens will remain under the guidance of coach Michael Mangion while adding some new personnel to their team in the likes of defenders Rebecca D’Agostino and Chantelle Grech, midfielder Kathryn Ellul and forwards Yulya Carella and Kelly Agius Pace.

Gżira United and Malta U-21’s player Jean Paul Attard will remain in charge of the San Ġwann women’s team after his debut last season.

In their maiden appearance in this league, San Ġwann managed to record four points including a victory against Mtarfa.

Their summer signings include former Hibernians player Rebecca Calleja, Kirstie Vella from Raiders Lija and Mġarr United duo Nicole Camenzuli and Yasmine Spiteri.

In the other game, Hibernians will mark their return to the senior women’s game against Mtarfa.

The Paolites, all-time Maltese league winners with 12 titles with the last won in the 2015/2016, have appointed Keith Gouder in his return as Hibernians’ coach.

Gouder is familiar with the Paolites’ environment having won all domestic competitions during his first spell and has strengthened the team with the hope being competitive from the get-go.

Some of the notable acquisitions by Hibernians are Maltese internationals Martina Borg and Nicole Sciberras, both at the back of a five-year spell in Italy. Young talents Chloe Ann Ellul, Amy Busuttil, Kayleigh Chetcuti and Iulia Mifsud have also made their way to the Paolites while a large number of ex-Kirkop United players have also opted to join Hibernians such as goalkeeper Raisa Costantino, defenders Celine Galea and Ingrid Psaila, midfielder Sarah Urpani and forward Rodianne Zerafa.

Another intriguing arrival at the club is American forward Alexis Espitia who last January joined Swieqi and scored six goals.

Simon Spiteri will remain as coach of Mtarfa as they enter their third season in the senior women’s league.

Mtarfa clinched their first ever victory last season as they finished their championship with four points – a win and a draw against San Ġwann.

They have added a few new faces to their squad including goalkeeper Maria Abdilla (former Kirkop United), Malta U-19’s Jeanelle Falzon – also from Kirkop United – and foreigner Rasvita Sluckute from Lithuania.

Raiders Lija will sit out on Matchday 1 as they will be the first team to serve a bye this season. They launch their league commitments against Mtarfa, next week.

Images copyright Domenic Aquilina

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