Champions Valletta will be facing FK Ekranas in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round at the Aukštaitija Stadium in Panevezys on Tuesday, kick-off at 18:00.
After winning the first leg by the odd goal in five at the Hibernians Stadium last week, Ekranas start as favourites to reach the next stage but although difficult, for Valletta, winning in Lithuania is not an impossible mission. The Citizens need to win with a two-goal difference or by just one goal should they win 4-3.
Valletta were trailing by three goals before Michael Mifsud pulled one back just before the break. Jesmond Zerafa’s side showed great determination during the second half and late in the game, the Malta international striker was unlucky to hit the upright and after William Barbosa da Silva reduced the gap further, Mifsud had a goal-bound shot cleared off the goal-line in stoppage time.
Therefore reaching their objective of being the first Maltese team to play in the third round of a UEFA competition is difficult but not impossible.
Brazilian striker Denni Rocha Dos Santos should recover fully from the injury which he suffered two weeks ago against Tre Fiori and which ruled him out of last week’s clash with Ekranas, to form an exciting partnership with Michael Mifsud.
Edmond Agius and Kenneth Scicluna should be employed in defence in order to make up for Roderick Briffa and Jonathan Caruana who collected a second yellow card last week and are therefore suspended.
Valletta reached a further round in a European competition twice. In 1999, they eliminated Barry Town of Wales, holding them in a 0-0 draw away from home and beating them 3-2 at Ta’ Qali. Ten years later, they beat Keflavik of Iceland 3-0 at the Centenary Stadium and then drew 2-2 in Iceland.
On the other hand, Ekranas qualified for a further round in a UEFA competition on three occasions. In 2004, they eliminated F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg from the first qualifying round of the UEFA Cup with a 3-1 aggregate score. In 2006, they eliminated KS Elbasani of Albania, losing 1-0 in Albania but winning 3-0 at home and in 2007, they defeated B36 Torshavn of the Faroe Islands with a 6-3 aggregate score in the UEFA Cup.
Should Valletta make it to the third qualifying round, they would meet the winner of the clash between Irish side Linfield and BATE Borisov of Belarus. The first leg between Linfield and BATE Borisov ended in a 1-1 draw. The second leg will be played on Tuesday at the Gorodskoy Stadion in Borisov.
Photo: Copyright © www.stephengatt.com