Birkirkara FC will be aiming for a good performance and possibly a positive result as they host Metalurg Skopje at the Hibernians Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 19:00.
The Stripes finished third in the Euro Cup after losing to Hibernians and Valletta, claiming the only points in a fine win over Floriana.
Besides Patrick Borg, who returned with the club, after spending last season on loan with Marsaxlokk, the Stripes signed goalkeeper Reuben Gauci from the Southseasiders on a permanent deal after he had spent the last six months on loan with the club.
Speaking on Wednesday, coach Paul Zammit said that for Maltese clubs, it was always hard to prepare but in this case, their opponents were on the same lines of preparation with their season finishing in May and having to resume pre-season training just a few weeks later.
Zammit admitted he would have preferred to have a longer squad for these two matches but although the club had plans to strengthen the team, they failed to sign the players who were identified as being the ideal players to strengthen the squad. Besides Moises Avila Perez who was released, Shaun Bajada and Angus Buhagiar are not part of the squad after their contract with the club expired.
The only two players in doubt for Birkirkara are Gareth Sciberras and Paul Fenech who were both recovering from injuries and a final decision will be taken on Thursday.
Paul Zammit concluded by saying that he was expecting a very tough challenge but said that he was happy with the players’ attitude ahead of these two games and the team did its best to prepare as good as they could.
Meanwhile in the draw, despite being one of the seeded teams, Birkirkara were unlucky to be paired with one of the top teams among those which were unseeded. FK Metalurg Skopje placed second in the Macedonian top division, nine points behind leaders Vardar.
Metalurg entered the Macedonian First League in the 1992/93 season and were relegated the same year. After playing for fifteen years in the Macedonian Second League they were back in the Macedonian First League for the 2008/09 season. In the 2009/2010 season they finished in third place and played in Europe for the first time in club history but were eliminated by Garabag Agdam of Azerbaijan with a 5-1 aggregate score in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League. Last season, they took part in the same competition but after holding Lokomotiv Sofia of Bulgaria in a goalless draw in the first leg, they suffered a narrow 3-2 defeat in Sofia.
Metalurg therefore seek their first win in a European competition.
Metalurg coach Gjorgii Hristov explained that they had the same problem with the league in Macedonia finishing in the fourth week of May and therefore they could hardly rest before resuming with pre-season training ahead of these matches.
However Hristov stressed that in football, one can never have excuses and you have to accept the situation. He said Metalurg’s objective was to come here, play a good game and get a positive result, definitely try to score goals.
The Metalurg coach said he feels that while the Macedonian league is getting weaker with the departure of good players to other countries, the Maltese league was getting stronger and therefore, he feels that at club level, it is a 50-50 chance. Only at national team level, Macedonia is at a better level than Malta.
Gjorgii Hristov is aware of Birkirkara’s dangerous forwards but said that while having a lot of respect for their opponents, Metalurg are not afraid and hopefully will make history for the club by obtaining their first win and eventually qualify for the second round.
Meanwhile Birkirkara announced that entrance to the home match of the UEFA Europa League First Qualifying round against MK Metalurg Skopje will be for free. This applies to both the home and visiting sides. The visiting side will be exclusively reserved for the FK Metalurg Skopje supporters. As usual practice, entrance will be permitted at the discretion of the security and Police officers.
“The Club is taking this initiative to give the opportunity to everyone to enjoy a European level match in a live atmosphere.”
“However, the Club is appealing to everybody for responsible behaviour. The Club will be deploying a number of stewards to ensure that the supporters can enjoy the match in a safe and responsible environment.”
“There will be zero tolerance for misbehaviour. This is also in light of the heavy fine that the Club had to pay over alleged racial booing during last year’s home match of the Europa League. This irresponsible behaviour of an individual or individuals cost the Club €15,000, which money could have been put to much better use.”
“The Club would like to reiterate its strong stance against racism or any sort of discrimination. This racism has no place in our Club, and this also in view of the number of black players that played for the Club in the past or are still playing for the Club.”
“We would like to urge every Birkirkara supporter to come and give his utmost and non-stop support to the team next Thursday at the Hibs Stadium. We also encourage you to stop any action that is out of place and that might harm the Club.”