Sliema Wanderers will be facing Croatian side HNK Šibenik in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round on Thursday at the SC Hrvatskih vitezova in Dugopolje, kick-off at 18:30.
Although Šibenik are taking part in a UEFA competition for the first time, this does not mean that it will be an easy task for the Wanderers. In recent years, there were several occasions in which local clubs faced teams from Croatia with the latter teams always emerging as winners of the two-legged ties.
Valletta had forced extra-time in the clash with Rijeka in the UEFA Cup in 2000. Slaven Belupo visited Malta three times, meeting Hibernians in the Intertoto Cup in 2004, Marsaxlokk in the UEFA Cup in 2008 and Birkirkara in the UEFA Europa League last year. Birkirkara met Hajduk Split in the UEFA Cup in 2008. Last year, the Stripes lost 0-1 to Slaven away from home, holding them in a goalless draw at the Centenary Stadium.
After securing third place in the BOV Premier League, defeating Qormi 2-0 in a decider just a month ago, the Wanderers started the season on a positive note as they beat champions Birkirkara 3-0 and runners-up Valletta 2-0 to claim the first honour of the season – the Euro Cup.
The squad has been strengthened with a number of foreign players, namely Hungarian goalkeeper Viktor Szentpeteri, Ivory Coast defender Sékou Tidiane Souare, Portuguese midfielder André Cabete Portulez, Portuguese midfielder Valdo Alhinho and Argentine midfielder Emiliano Lattes besides Nigerian goalkeeper Ini Etim Aktpan who is yet to make his debut for the Blues.
Sliema will be unable to count on the suspended Josef Mifsud while Alex Muscat and Miguel Ciantar are recovering from injuries.
HNK Šibenik secured a place in the UEFA Europa League after finishing fourth at the end of last season, twelve points behind champions Dinamo Zagreb.
The club was founded in 1932 and after the set-up of the league in Croatia, they played for twelve years in the top division – the Prva HNL before being relegated at the end of season 2002/03. In 2006, Šibenik won the Second Division championship and hence secured promotion to the top division.
The return leg will be played at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday 8, kick-off at 17:30.
The winner of the clash between Sliema and Šibenik will be facing the winner of the two-legged tie between Anorthosis Famagusta of Cyprus and FC Banants of Armenia in the second qualifying round. Matches which will be played on July 15 and 22. Sliema or Šibenik would host the first leg.