Balzan will be aiming for a good performance and hopefully a good result as they take on Neftçi PFC in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round at the Hibernians Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 18:00.
This will be the second experience for Balzan in a UEFA competition after bowing out of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round last year after suffering a 0-2 defeat to Željezničar at the Hibernians Stadium and a 1-0 defeat in Sarajevo.
In the close season, Balzan strengthened their squad with the signing of three new foreigners – Brazilian defender Bruno Giglio de Oliveira, Brazilian midfielder Anderson Francisco de Barros and Macedonian striker Borce Manevski. On the other hand, goalkeeper Valerio Senatore, defender Maxim Focsa, midfielder Pedro dos Santos Calcado and strikers Alan da Silva Souza and Aleksandar Vujacic.
The only player who is unavailable for Thursday’s clash is Ryan Fenech who is mid-way through the recovery period and should be fully recovered by the end of August.
Last week, the team was on training camp in Cyprus where they also played a friendly match against AEK Larnaca, losing 0-4.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Balzan coach Oliver Spiteri admitted it will be a difficult game.
“One has to be realistic. They reached the group stage in the UEFA Europa League recently and obtained good results against top clubs such as Inter. They are a well established team in their country.”
The Balzan coach added that Netchi have a fantastic forward line and are very fast upfront.
“We know our limitations. We will play our game and will have to be fully concentrated throughout the 180 minutes,” said Spiteri.
Balzan captain Dylan Grima said the key to a good performance was tactical discipline and determination. Taking cue from EURO 2016, Grima said “If we have the tactical discipline of Italy and the determination of Iceland, we could do well.”
Neftçi PFC Baki is an Azerbaijani football club based in the capital, Baku, that currently plays in the Azerbaijan Premier League. Founded in 1937, the club has won 8 Azerbaijan Premier League, 6 Azerbaijan Cup and 2 Azerbaijan Supercup titles. The club is one of the two teams in Azerbaijan, along with Qarabağ which has participated in all Azerbaijan Premier League championships so far.
In 2012, Neftçi Baku became the first Azerbaijani team to advance to the group stage of a European competition, beating APOEL of Cyprus 4–2 on aggregate in the play-off round of the 2012–13 UEFA Europa League.
Last season, Neftçi finished sixth with 49 points from 36 matches, thirty-five behind champions Qarabağ. They lost the Cup final 0-1 after extra-time to Qarabağ. However they are representing Azerbaijan in the Europa League as Zira did not obtain a UEFA licence and İnter Bakı are banned.
This will be Balzan’s second participation in UEFA competitions after being eliminated from the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round, losing 0-3 on aggregate.
The return match will be played at the Bakcell Arena in Baku on Thursday. The winner will face KF Shkendija (FYR Macedonia) or MKS Cracovia Krakow (Poland) in the second qualifying round