Birkirkara will be aiming at keeping the tie alive as they host FC Krasnodar in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round at the Hibernians Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 19:30.
The Stripes registered a shock 2-1 away win over Scottish side Heart of Midlothian last week to become the first Maltese club to advance to a third round in a European competition. In the first leg at the Hibs Stadium, a week earlier, Birkirkara held on to a goalless draw and once again, this should be the plan as they face the strong Russian side.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, captain Gareth Sciberras said “We will go in this game fully concentrated and motivating about playing against a strong squad. We have to follow our coach’s instructions and give our utmost on the pitch.”
Sciberras said that reaching this stage was a huge experience both for the club and for the players. “I do not see this as pressure. Any round we go through, we will see it as a bonus. For us, this is good motivation to go for the game with the best mood and attitude possible.”
“We aim at keeping the tie alive after the first game. Not conceding a goal at home is a big advantage but you cannot defend for ninety minutes as you would encourage your opponents to attack,” added the Birkirkara captain.
Birkirkara coach Drazen Besek said that although qualification may have been a surprise for many, he was not that surprised.
“People were surprised but we were not as we know how hard we worked. I choose the players who can follow my instructions and have big ambition,” said Besek.
As regards Krasnodar, the Birkirkara coach said “You never know what would happen but we know against whom we are playing. We have big respect for our opponents but on the pitch, anything is possible.”
For this game, Drazen Besek will have the full squad at his disposal. An addition to the squad was the return of Croatian midfielder Mislav Andjelkovic after a successful spell with the club in the latter part of last season.
FC Krasnodar are a relatively new club as they were founded in 2008 but after being promoted to the Russian First Division in 2009, they were promoted to the Russian Premier League in 2010. They placed fourth last season, nine points behind champions CSKA Moscow.
They took part in the UEFA Europa League in season 2014/15 and successfully completed three Europa League qualification phases after defeating Sillamäe Kalev, Diósgyőr and Real Sociedad on aggregate. The team then advanced to the Group Stage, where they were drawn into Group H alongside Lille, Wolfsburg and Everton, eventually finishing third.
Last year, Krasnodar got to the Europa League group stage for the second time in a row. Their group consisted of Borussia Dormund, PAOK and Gabala. They won all their home games and even pulled off a surprising 1–0 win against Dortmund. They finished first with four wins (1–0 against Dortmund, 2–1 against PAOK, 2–1 and 3–0 against Gabala), one draw (0–0 against PAOK) and one loss (1–2 against Dortmund). They were eliminated in the round of 32 by Sparta Prague.
Their squad includes five players who played in the EURO 2016. These are Sweden’s Andreas Granqvist, Iceland’s Ragnar Sigurdsson – scorer of a goal against England, Poland’s Artur Jedrzejczyk and Russia’s Pavel Mamaev and Fedor Smolov. Dmitri Torbinski was also a member of the Russian squad but did not play any games.