Champions Hibernians host FCI Tallinn of Estonia in the first leg of the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League at the Hibernians Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 20:00.
This is the first time clubs from Malta and Estonia are facing each other in a major UEFA club competition.
Addressing the media on Tuesday, Hibernians coach Mark Miller said that the first leg was of utmost importance as a good result would put them with a good chance ahead of the second leg.
The Hibs mentor said that he was happy with the players’ response during pre-season training. He said that the fitness of their opponents is definitely better considering that they are half-way through their league campaign.
“The boys worked hard and the new boys fitted well. We tried to improve the team a little. Martin Kreuzriegler is slightly injured but should be fit for second leg.”
The other new signing, Marco Sahanek, on the other hand, is set to start.
Rui da Gracia Gomes could also make it to the starting line-up after a most unfortunate season during which he was recovering from injury. The Hibs coach said that Rui had done well in the two pre-season friendlies and that although he is no longer young, he has a lot of experience.
Miller said FCI Tallinn were a strong side who play aggressive football.
“We know each and every player of FCI Tallinn. We watches a number of their games. We have gone into detail in these games and passed on all the information to our players. They are a very aggressive team … they play the Scandinavian style. In this climate, maybe they would not be able to do it. Hopefully by the 60th minute they are ‘dead’.”
When asked whether the heat would affect their opponents, Miller said “Technically we can be as good as them and so this could affect them. Had it been one of the top European teams, it would have been different as you have to chase them all the time and the heat would affect negatively the locals.”
In order to be better prepared for UEFA competitions, the Hibs coach argued that it did make sense having the domestic season between February and October considering that local teams were doing the pre-season preparation, which is obviously tougher, in the hot months of June and July.
FCI Tallinn coach Aleksandr Pustov said he had gathered some information about Hibernians and said that although they had a number of foreign players who are physically very strong, still hopes for a positive outcome from this game. “They have good forwards and good individuals but if we could handle them, we could do it.”
Puštov is particularly worried about the heat. “We came from a temperature of 5 to a temperature of 30 and that is a big difference. We will see how the heat will affect our team.”
Hibs captain Clayton Failla said this was a difficult match for the Paolites but they were aiming for a positive which would leave them with a good chance of qualifying for the next round.
Miller stressed that one cannot think about the possible clash with Red Bull Salzburg.
“Our first job is tomorrow. If I think that far ahead, I would not get past tomorrow. Even the second leg will be completely different, conditioned by the result of the first leg and the different weather. We must be brave, otherwise we would not deserve anything,” added the Hibs coach.
FC Infonet Tallinn are based in the capital of Estonia, Tallinn. Founded in 2002, the club has played in the Meistriliiga since the 2013 season and have never been relegated from the Estonian top division. The club won the league in the 2016 season.
Before the 2011 season, the club merged with Esiliiga club FC Atletik. Infonet won the 2012 Esiliiga season and were promoted to the top tier Meistriliiga. Infonet finished its first season in the Estonian top division with 6th place. Infonet made their European debut in the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League, but were defeated by Scottish Heart of Midlothian 3–6 on aggregate in the first qualifying round.
Infonet won the 2016 Meistriliiga season with a total 80 points. They also won the Estonian Cup in 2016/17 and the Estonian Supercup in 2017. This season, they are currently fourth on 27 points, twenty-points behind leaders Flora Tallinn.
The second leg will be played at the A. Le Coq Arena in Tallinn on Tuesday 4th July. The winner of the two-legged tie between Hibernians and FCI Tallinn will be facing FC Red Bull Salzburg.