Bilic urges Hammers to keep their cool

Slaven Bilic has urged his players to keep their cool during Thursday’s UEFA Europa League second qualifying round second leg tie with Birkirkara FC.

With temperatures hovering around 35C (95F) in Malta and a large and vociferous home crowd expected at the Ta’ Qali National Stadium, the Stripes will do everything they can to overcome their 1-0 first-leg deficit.

However, speaking in his pre-match press conference, Bilic has said his Hammers will prepare for the heat, humidity and atmosphere, while also warning his players not to become involved in any situations similar to that which saw Diafra Sakho sent-off in the first qualifying round win over Andorrans FC Lusitans.
Slaven, can we start with your team news please?

“It’s a good situation. Still we are not complete, because some players have stayed in London and then join the pre-season later than rest of the guys. They played for their national team or the Under-21s or at the Copa America.

“It’s much different than the Andorra game, when we were having two squads, as now we have one team. Five or six players stayed in London and had a good training session on Wednesday, and they will train on Thursday with the Under-21s with Terry Westley. We have a good team here with us and we are looking forward to tomorrow’s game.”

How do you see the tie after the first leg, seeing as you don’t have a decisive advantage?

“Well the score was not ideal, to be fair, and we were hoping to have one more goal. Before that game I didn’t dream it would be like the Andorra kind of a game. I played a few times against Maltese teams and against the national team, and Croatia drew 1-1 once here when I was Under-21s. We are still the favourite and are better than them, but the gap is closing.

“We are better than them of course, and to get a better result than 1-0 we should have scored earlier which I think we deserved, but at the end, we have a positive result. I am sure that it should be enough especially if we score a goal here, which we will try to do, and our team is capable of.”
After what happened with Diafra Sakho in Andorra, when he was sent-off for retaliating to provocation, will you be telling your team to keep their heads?

“I don’t it will be very hostile atmosphere here. The people are nice are very here, we are expecting that. Our players play in the Premier League and a lot of them are internationals.

“I will tell them, but it’s pointless to warm them about the pressures and the referees when they face that week out, week in all their careers. Of course, we don’t want that.”
Finally, you trained at the Ta’ Qali National Stadium on Wednesday evening and it was still very hot and humid. Will the heat be a factor?

“The heat is a problem, you cannot get used to this heat, no matter how much you read in the papers, until the moment you land. I spoke to my family and kids in Croatia and there it’s the same. They tell me ‘Dad, it’s going to be 37-38 degrees, but when we came it is like a sauna.

“That will be a problem for us, but we are experienced enough and we are good enough that with the greatest respect to the Maltese team, at least 70% we are going to be the ones who dictate the tempo of the game, and we should be capable of keeping the ball and not go crazy in terms of running.

“However, the heat is their advantage, because they live in those weather conditions and we don’t.”