After eliminating Tre Fiori with a 5-1 aggregate score in the UEFA Champions League 2011/12 and La Fiorita with a 4-0 aggregate score in the UEFA Europa League 2013/14, Valletta will be aiming for a hat-trick of wins over San Marino clubs as they take on S.S. Folgore Falciano Calcio in the first leg of the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, kick-off at 20:45.
The Citizens start as firm favourites to reach the next stage where they would be facing FC Utrecht but need to keep their feet on the ground as new coach Zoran Popovic said while addressing the media on Wednesday.
Popovic – a former coach of Floriana during the early part of season 2007/08 and coach of Saham Club in Oman last season following a spell with FK Cukaricki in Serbia – stressed that although Valletta will be adopting an offensive plan, they must be careful as the San Marino outfit had been strengthened with the signing of a number of new players.
“We are treating this match very seriously. They have have strengthened the squad with players who used to play in the Serie B. We must focus on ourselves. We need to win and avoid conceding goals,” said Popovic.
Popovic said he was pleased with the condition of his players following the pre-season but admitted that the club is hoping to sign one to two new foreign players. He stressed that Valletta will be playing offensive football this season and that they will have a strong team which can win the league.
This summer, Valletta welcomed back Henry Bonello after a five-month spell with Birkirkara and signed Joseph Zerafa and Kyrian Nwoko from Birkirkara and St. Andrews respectively. Luke Montebello joined Birkirkara, Leandro Aguirre left the club while Dziugas Bartkus, Tomas Radzinevicius and Valdo Alhinho were not retained.
Roderick Briffa and Rowen Muscat are still recovering from injuries with Muscat only set to return for the BOV Premier League campaign while Jonathan Caruana is suspended.
Apart from eliminating the two clubs from San Marino in 2011 and 2013, Valletta had also reached a second round in 1999 when they eliminated Barry Town of Wales in the Champions League, Keflavik of Iceland in the UEFA Europa League in 2009, FC Lusitanos of Andorra in the Champions League in 2012 and B36 Torshavn of the Faroe Islands in the UEFA Champions League last season.
SS Folgore, who were founded in 1972, are based in the village of Falciano in the castello of Serravalle, San Marino. Folgore won the championship four times – 1996/97, 1997/98, 1999/2000 and 2014/15, the Coppa Titano in 2014/15 and the Trofeo Federale in 1997, 2000 and 2015.
They took part in the UEFA Cup for the first time in 2000/01, losing 1-12 on aggregate to FC Basel. In the last three years, they were eliminated by Buducnost Podgorica with a 1-5 aggregate score in the Europa League, 1-4 by Pyunik Yerevan in the Champions League and by AEK Larnaca 1-6 on aggregate in the Europa League last season.
Last season, they placed third in Group B and made it to the fifth round of the play-offs, losing narrowly to eventual runners-up Tre Penne.
This summer they have appointed Oscar Lasagni as their new coach, replacing Nicola Berardi. They signed Ramiro Lago from Pennarossa, Alberto Semprini from Cosmos, Nicolò Tamagnini from Cailungo, Luca Bonifazi and Stefano Sacco from Virtus and goalkeeper Luca Bianchi from Fiorentino.