U*BET FA Trophy winners Hibernians will be hosting FK Vojvodina at the Centenary Stadium, kick-off at 18:00, while Valletta face SP La Fiorita at the Stadio di Serravalle in San Marino, kick-off at 21:00, in two first leg matches from the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.
The task for Hibernians is definitely a more difficult one compared to that of Valletta, considering the level of the game in Serbia and San Marino.
For new Hibernians coach, Branko Nisevic, this game will mark his debut after joining the club from the MFA Technical Centre.
Since last season, Hibernians hardly had any changes in their squad apart from the return of players who were on loan with other clubs, namely Matthew Gauci, Matthew Tabone, Tristan Caruana and Steve Pisani who played for Hamrun, Vittoriosa, Qormi and Floriana respectively. The only player not to be retained is Allan Kardeck dos Santos.
Fudbalski klub Vojvodina was one of the most successful clubs in the former Yugoslavia, winning two championships in 1966 and 1989, ending as runners-up three times – in 1957, 1962 and 1975. They won the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1976 and the Mitropa Cup in 1977. Vojvodia were runners-up of the Serbian SuperLiga in 2009 and finished in 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
In fact, last year, Vojvodina finished third in the Serbian top division one point behind Red Star Belgrade and twelve behind champions Partizan Belgrade. They lost the Serbian Cup final, losing 0-1 to FK Jagodina.
This will be the second time, Hibernians face FK Vojvodina. In fact in the UEFA Europa League 2007/08, Vojvodina defeated Hibs 5-1 at home and 2-0 in Malta.
Vojvodina’s best run in Europe took place in season 1967/68 when they reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. They qualified for a second round on various occasions but last year, they were surprised by FC Vaduz of Liechtenstein who eliminated them from the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League after a shock 3-1 win in Novi Sad after a 2-0 win for Vojvodina in Liechtenstein. Vaduz qualified on the away-goals rule.
Hibs qualified for a second round on two occasions. In 1971, they eliminated Fram Reykjavik of Iceland from the Cup Winners Cup with a 3-2 aggregate score. More recently, in 2002, Hibernians eliminated Shelbourne of Ireland in the UEFA Champions League after a 2-2 draw at home and a 1-0 win in Ireland.
The second leg is scheduled for Thursday 11 at the Stadion Karadjordje in Novi Sad, kick-off at 20:30.
The winner of Hibernians vs Vojvodina will face the winner of the clash between FK Čelik Nikšić of Montenegro and Budapest Honvéd FC of Hungary.
Meanwhile Valletta travelled to San Marino where they will be facing San Marino’s Coppa Titano winners SP La Fiorita.
After a disappointing season, Valletta went through a number of changes in their squad after releasing Michael Mifsud and foreigners William Barbosa, Demba Toure, Gabriel da Silva, Joseph JoJo Ogunuppe and Abubakar Bello-Osagie. New signings include Italian goalkeeper Pietro Marino, Gambia international midfielder Hamza Barry and Nigerian striker Aud-Gustine James Obaje. Yessous Camilleri, Kurt Magro, Shaun Bajada, Ian Zammit and Terence Scerri return with the club after spending time on loan with other clubs.
For SP La Fiorita, this will only be their second participation in a UEFA competition. Last year, they were eliminated from the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa league by Metalurgs Liepaja of Latvia. The latter won the first leg in San Marino 2-0 and the second leg 4-0 for a 6-0 aggregate score.
La Fiorita won the championship twice – 1986/87 and 1989/90 and the Coppa Titano three times – 1985/86, 2011/12, 2012/13. In fact, they defeated San Giovanni 1-0 in the final. In the play-offs for the championship, they were eliminated in the pen-ultimate round, losing 0-1 to champions Tre Penne.
This will be the second time, the Citizens will be playing in San Marino. In 2011/12, Valletta eliminated SP Tre Fiori with a 3-0 win in San Marino and a 2-1 win at the Hibernians Stadium.
Valletta qualified for a second round on four occasions. In the UEFA Champions League, in 1999, they eliminated Barry Town of Wales after a goalless draw away from home and a 3-2 home win. Ten years later, they eliminated Keflavik of Iceland with a 5-2 aggregate score in the UEFA Europa League. Two years ago, they eliminated Tre Fiori of San Marino with a 5-1 aggregate score and last year FC Lusitans of Andorra with a 9-0 aggregate score.
The second leg will be played at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday 11, kick-off at 18:00. The winner of the clash between La Fiorita and Valletta takes on FC Minsk of Belarus.