After holding HNK Šibenik in a goalless draw in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League first qualifying round clash in Dugopolje last week, Sliema Wanderers will be aiming for another positive result on Thursday as they host the Croatian side in the second leg at the Centenary Stadium, kick-off at 17:30.
Playing against a team from Croatia is never an easy task for local sides. In fact, no Maltese side has ever managed to eliminate a Croatian team in a UEFA competition but last Thursday’s result leaves high hopes for the Blues to reach the next stage.
Basically, the Wanderers have to beat Šibenik to set-up a clash with Anorthosis Famagusta of Cyprus or FC Banants of Armenia in the second qualifying round of the competition in a week’s time, first leg away from home. Anorthosis won the first leg 3-0.
With a goalless draw, extra-time would be necessary while any other draw (1-1, 2-2, etc.) would allow HNK Šibenik to move to the next stage on their debut in European competition thanks to the away-goals rule.
In the first leg, Šibenik held the initiative throughout the game and it was only a fine performance by the Sliema rear-guard and in particular, goalkeeper Viktor Szentpeteri, that kept the Croatian side at bay. However the Wanderers did have their fair share of scoring opportunities.
In their history, the Blues reached a further round in European competitions on four occasions. In the Cup Winners Cup in 1968, they eliminated US Rumelange of Luxembourg thanks to the away-goals rule following a 1-0 home win and a 1-2 defeat away from home. Three years later, they beat ÍA Akranes of Iceland with a 4-0 aggregate score in the Champions Cup. In 1996, they eliminated Margveti Zestafoni of Georgia from the preliminary round of the UEFA Cup thanks to a 4-3 aggregate score while in 2003, they eliminated Skonto Riga of Latvia from the UEFA Champions League following a 2-0 win at the Hibs Ground and a 1-3 defeat in Riga.
For Thursday’s game, Mark Marlow could not count on the injured Alex Muscat.
The match will be controlled by officials from Northern Ireland, namely referee Alan Black, assistant referees Gareth Eakin and Richard Storey and fourth official Arnold Hunter.