Birkirkara will be aiming for a positive result on Thursday as they take on KF Vllaznia Shkoder in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round at the Hibernians Stadium, kick-off at 20:30.
The Stripes finished third in the BOV Premier League last season despite a fine start to the season with a 7-3 aggregate win over Santa Coloma of Andorra and 1-3 loss to MSK Zilina of Slovakia in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League.
After opting not to retain coach Paul Zammit, Birkirkara have appointed Patrick Curmi as their new mentor with former Marsaxlokk midfielder Peter Pullicino as his assistant. Foreigners Michael Fraser, Nikola Vukanac, Ibrahim Babatunde, Rodolfo Kumbrevicius and Emiliano Lattes were not retained or decided to move elsewhere while captain Michael Galea decided not to renew his contract with the club.
However the Stripes acted swiftly in trying to strengthen their squad and signed Spanish goalkeeper Jorge Mora, former Hibernians and Vittoriosa striker Leighton Grech and finally Marsaxlokk and Malta international midfielder Gareth Sciberras. Other new signings include Latvian defender Marcis Savinovs, Brazilians Antonio Gomes and David Silva and Italian striker Jacopo Camilli. For Sciberras, Thursday’s game could mark his debut as all the other new players made their first appearance in the Euro Cup which the Stripes ended in second place following draws with Floriana and Valletta.
This will be the second time, Birkirkara will be facing a team from Albania after meeting Partizani Tirana in the UEFA Cup first qualifying round in 2004. Following a 4-2 win for Partizani in Tirana, Birkirkara won 2-1 at Ta’ Qali.
Klub Futboll Vllaznia Shkodër are based in Shkodër, Albania. KF Vllaznia, who were founded in 1919 – making them the second oldest club in Albania, have been Albanian champions nine times and won the National Cup six times, the last success coming at the end of the 2007-08 season, after a long 21 year drought in the competition.
They took part in a European competition for the first time in 1978 and the first time they reached a further round was in 1987 when they eliminated Sliema Wanderers from the Cup Winners Cup beating them 2-0 and home and 4-0 at Ta’ Qali. In 2001, they reached the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League after beating KR Reykjavik of Iceland on the away goals rule following a 2-1 defeat in Iceland and a 1-0 at home. In 2008, they managed to eliminate NK Koper of Slovenia from the first qualifying round of the UEFA Cup with a 2-1 aggregate score and the following year, they eliminated Sligo Rovers of Ireland with a 3-2 aggregate score in the same competition.
Last season, Vllaznia placed third in the Albanian Superliga on 59 points, fourteen behind champions Skënderbeu Korçë and seven behind runners-up Flamurtari Vlorë.
The second leg will be played at Loro Borici Stadium in Shkoder on July 7, kick-off at 19:00.