After eliminating B36 Torshavn, Valletta face a much more difficult task as they take on FK Crvena Zvezda, better known as Red Star Belgrade, in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round at the Hibernians Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 20:00.
Following a 1-0 win over B36 in the first leg, the Citizens lost 1-2 in Torshavn with Federico Falcone once again scoring for Valletta.
Addressing the media on Monday, Valletta coach Paul Zammit said he was proud of the players after qualifying for the second round. He said the clash with B36, who have already played twenty-one games this season compared to Valletta’s two, was no easy game, especially the away tie.
The Valletta coach said the away game came at the end of difficult trip to Torshavn and the circumstances were far from ideal. He said B36 played much better than during the first leg and considering all, his players made an immediate reaction after conceding the first goal. He added that had Jhonnattann not hit the posts, they could have killed B36’s hopes of qualifying but still, Valletta managed to take home a result which put them through.
Zammit said the team is well aware that they are now playing against ‘giants’ and that it will be a very difficult game for Valletta.
Red Star dominated the Serbian Super Liga and after finishing the regular season twenty-eight points ahead of Partizan, they still ended fourteen points ahead of their rivals in the Championship Pool. Paul Zammit said that although they lost some players, they signed others and are a team which aims high.
“All I need is that with our performance, we gain respect from our opponents. We have nothing to lose and we will give our very best.”
“We need to gauge ourselves against a team like this and will do our utmost to gain respect from our opponents,” added Zammit.
For this game, defender Steve Borg will be available although he could still start on the bench.
Valletta were hoping to sign twenty-six year old Lithuanian goalkeeper Džiugas Bartkus as Nicky Vella is ruled out with a long-term injury. Bartkus played for Partizan Minsk and Dinamo Brest in Belarus, FBK Kaunas and FK Suduva in Lithuania before joining Gornik Leczna in Poland earlier this season. However he should not be available as his international transfer did not arrive in time. Ryan Camilleri is ruled out through suspension.
Red Star are the only Serbian and former Yugoslav club to have won the Champions Cup, having done so in 1991, and the only team from Eastern Europe to have won the Intercontinental Cup, also in 1991. With 27 national championships and 24 national cups between Serbian and the former Yugoslav competitions, Red Star was the most successful club in former Yugoslavia and finished as first in the Yugoslav First League all-time table, and is the most successful club in Serbia. However, since the 1991–92 season, Red Star has failed to qualify in the group stages of UEFA Champions League.
They had earlier reached the semi-finals of the Champions Cup in 1957 and 1971 and the semi-finals of the Cup Winners Cup in 1975. They ended as losing finalists of the UEFA Cup in 1979, losing to Borussia Monchengladbach with a 1-2 aggregate score. In seasons 2005/06 and 2007/08, Red Star made it to the group stage of the UEFA Europa League.
In 1981, Red Star Belgrade had eliminated Hibernians from the first round of the Champions Cup with a 2-1 win in Malta and a most comfortable 8-1 win at home.