BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Hearts midfielder Arnaud Djoum will turn his attention from Infonet to the internet in a bid to brush up on Birkirkara.
After cruising to a 6-3 aggregate triumph in Tallinn, focus is immediately on a testing trip to Malta next Thursday, with the genial Belgian admitting he will be forced to resort to Google to size up the challenge ahead.
Suffice to say Birkirkara’s credible 1-1 aggregate draw with West Ham United last year will be prominent among the search engine results. Despite agonisingly losing out on penalties, the tie was illustrative of the onerous task the Jambos will face.
While he might be in the dark about the men from Malta, Djoum is acutely aware that the heat on the Mediterranean island will be a key factor, with temperatures upwards of 30 degrees not uncommon, even during evening kick-offs.
“All I know is the team is from Malta . . . that is all my information! Once we get back to Scotland I will be spending a lot of time on Google,” smiled the playmaker. “Maybe I can learn a few things about them.
“People have already been talking about their match against West Ham last year, when they went all the way to penalties, so we will be prepared to play against a very good team in tough conditions.
“The heat in Malta does make a difference and it is something we have to prepare for. It is important to get a good result away from home and to do that we will need to be ready for the heat and, also, we don’t know how good the pitch will be.
“After playing in places like Turkey [with Akhisar Belediyespor], it won’t be a problem for me . . . I don’t know about the other players!
“You have to manage the game differently, you cannot put the same effort in for the whole 90 minutes and you need to be smarter with your energy. You need to pick the right moments to press and make decisive runs. This is key.
“We will learn what to expect, be compact and hopefully get the right result in Malta.”
Hearts’ progression to the second qualifying round was never in doubt in Tallinn, with the Jambos swatting aside the Estonian minnows with a display of clinical finishing and raw physicality.
Infonet were utterly incapable of dealing with any deliveries into the box, with all four Hearts goals coming from set-pieces, and Djoum was thrilled by a performance of sheer dominance.
He is also satisfied to have proved a point after making it clear the capital club were hurt by some of the criticism of their sluggish 2-1 win at Tynecastle six days earlier.
“We wanted to prove a point because we know this team has a lot of quality and we believe in ourselves,” continued the 27-year-old. “So when we hear people speaking negatively about us and criticising us it makes us unhappy.
“We have a lot of quality, we give everything in each match and the fans can believe in us.
“We know the first leg was not a good performance – we were not ready to play after one week of training. We were clearly in better shape in Tallinn and you could see, especially in the first half, we played really well.
“That bodes well for what this team can achieve in the future.”
And Djoum is similarly enthused by what Jamie Walker can achieve in the future.
The 23-year-old was irrepressible in Estonia, claiming a remarkable four assists courtesy his wicked deliveries – with news of such a dominant man of the match performance sure to have made its way back to national boss Gordon Strachan.
Walker has long been mentioned as a future cap and Djoum believes he is ready to make that step up, while tipping him to ultimately thrive in the top tier of the English game.
“Jamie was absolutely amazing,” smiled Djoum. “I’ve not seen many performance like that. He helped us so much and to get four assists is incredible.
“He is a great player, he has unbelievable quality and if he can play like that every game, with real consistency, then he can play at a very high level, maybe even in the top league of England.
“I think Jamie has the ability to be in the Scotland squad, I have no doubt about that. When you look at the Scotland team, I think there is a place for Jamie.
“He is direct, can score goals and would definitely bring something to the national team. I believe Scotland will call him one day and I hope it happens soon than later.”