Birkirkara host KÍ Klaksvík in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League preliminary round at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 19:00.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Birkirkara coach Paul Zammit said preparations in the pre-season were not only geared for this game. He said that last season, considering how things turned out, it was a collective effort which enabled them to secure qualification for the UEFA Europa League. He said that for Birkirkara, participation in Europe was of utmost importance.
Zammit added that in view of the coming season, he wanted to make sure to have the right set-up at the club, adding that he found the right backing by the administration and rest of technical staff.
As regards the squad, Zammit said “The basis of the squad, and in particular, the Maltese players are still there. All Maltese players were retained along with Mislav Andjelkovic and goalkeeper Kristijan Naumovski. All the other foreigners were released. The club signed ten players so far – eight foreigners together with Paul Fenech and Michael Mifsud. We signed these players with the objective of raising the quality of the squad to make sure to have a team to challenge for honours.”
The Stripes started pre-season training five weeks ago.
“We prepared in the best we could since there are the usual difficulties for local teams having to play in June, therefore only having a short break from the previous season.”
Zammit listed two main difficulties. “First of all the time for the new players to settle down considering that we changed half the squad and the second biggest difficulty is the fact that we are facing a team which already played fifteen league games. It has to be our day in order to do well.”
“Changing the football season could be a solution but not the only one. It is debatable. I am glad the national coaches approached me to have a meeting. We have a common objective. In football, most successful people are those who could adapt themselves.”
Zammit would be unable to field his best formation as Matthew Guillaumier and Terence Agius are ruled out injured while Kurt Zammit and Ryan Scicluna are recovering from injuries and maybe will available for the second leg.
Apart from Paul Fenech and Michael Mifsud, the new additions include central defenders Arian Mrsulja and Eduardo Mancha, midfielder Uchenna Calistus Umeh and forwards Marcelinho and Fabiano Lima.
Referring to the signing of Michael Mifsud, Paul Zammit said that Birkirkara wanted to add a Maltese option as a striker. “Options are quite limited and Luke Montebello will only be available in January. Three years ago, I took Michael Mifsud to Valletta. His work ethic is excellent and has the enthusiasm for the game that sometimes younger players lack.”
“Having experienced players like Michael Mifsud, Paul Fenech, Andjelkovic and Naumovski plays an important role in do-or-die games,” added the Birkirkara coach.
Croatian midfielder Mislav Andjelkovic, who has now been promoted to captain, said “For me it is a great honor to play again in Europe. We need to thank the players who were part of the squad last season and new ones should be grateful for the commitment of last season’s squad.”
Andjelkovic added that these will be difficult games and that the biggest problem is for the new players to get used to each other but is still hopeful of a good result.
Team Manager Michael Valenzia said Birkirkara are looking forward for this game.
“We worked hard together with the technical staff to be prepared in best condition possible. We are in a better condition than last year. These will be two difficult games but we are well prepared to face them, hoping for positive results.”
Klaksvíkar Ítróttarfelag, better known as KI, are based in Klaksvík. The club was founded in 1904 and is one of the most successful Faroese football clubs, having won the Faroe Islands Premier League seventeen times and the Faroe Islands Cup six times.
Last year, KÍ missed out on the title on goal difference after ending their commitments in the Meistaradeildin (Premier League) on level points with Víkingur.
Klaksvík are currently second in the Meistaradeildin with 35 points from fifteen matches. They are coming from five consecutive wins. THey have three national team players, four Under 21s and five foreigners. Their coach, Mikkjal Thomassen was a player of B36 who had eliminated Birkirkara from the UEFA Champions League in 2006. when they faced Birkirkara.
Paul Zammit said Klaksvík were quite strong physically and were a team which tries to impose their game. “Quality wise I think we are better but only the team which is able to use its strengths will win. We have to be very careful.”
In Europe, they never managed to reach a further round, being eliminated by Skonto Riga of Latvia in the Champions League in 1992, by Maccabi Haifa of Israel in the Cup Winners Cup – despite a 3-2 win at home in 1995, by Újpest TE of Hungary in the UEFA Cup in 1997, by Grazer AK of Austria in the UEFA Cup in 1999, by Red Star Belgrade in the UEFA Champions League in 2000, by Újpest TE of Hungary in the UEFA Europa League in 2002 despite a 2-2 draw at home, Molde FK of Norway in the UEFA Europa League in 2003 and last year by AIK Stockholm of Sweden, despite a goalless draw at home.
Birkirkara, on the other hand, participated regularly in the UEFA Europa League/UEFA Cup and UEFA Champions League between 1997 and 2016 but missed out on a UEFA licence last season. Their best achievements were qualification against Lokomotivi Tbilisi of Georgia in the UEFA Cup in 2001, FC Santa Coloma of Andorra in the Champions League in 2010, Ulisses Yerevan of Armenia in the Europa League in 2015 and Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Hearts FC of Scotland in the Europa League in 2016.