Birkirkara will be aiming at a positive result as they take on NK Maribor of Slovenia in the first leg of the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League at the National Stadium, kick-off at 19:30.
After winning the championship, defeating Hibernians 3-1 in a decider, the Stripes were busy in the transfer market, signing four foreign players to replace Rodrigo Pereira and Jhonnattann Benites da Conceicao who left the club and Yosimar Hernandez and Joselito dos Reis who were not retained.
They strengthened their forward line with the signing of Senegalese striker Demba Toure who played for Valletta last season and Nigerian forward Frank Temile who returns to Malta after an unsuccessful spell in Ukraine. Birkirkara also secured the services of two defenders – Spanish Ricardo Jimenez and Brazilian Jonathan Maciel.
With these signings, the Stripes aim at being once again among the main challengers for major honours.
Apart from the Euro Cup friendly tournament, as part of the preparation for this two-legged clash with Maribor, Birkirkara played a friendly match against FC Khazar Lankaran of Azerbaijan which ended in a 1-1 draw.
On Tuesday, the Stripes’ main objective is to get a positive result which maintains the chances of reaching the next stage alive ahead of the second leg.
The clash with NK Maribor is definitely no easy one. The Slovenians are not new to playing in Malta. In fact, this will be their third visit to Malta. They were drawn with Hamrun Spartans in their first ever participation in UEFA competitions back in 1992. In the qualifying round of the Cup Winners’ Cup, Maribor eliminated Hamrun with a 5-2 aggregate score following a 4-0 win at home and a 1-2 defeat at Ta’ Qali. In 2007, Maribor were paired with Birkirkara in the Intertoto Cup. The Slovenian side won 3-0 at the Hibs Ground and 2-1 at home.
NK Maribor won the championship in Slovenia on 78 points, eight ahead of Olimpija Ljubljana and eighteen ahead of NK Domžale. They won the double after defeating NK Celje 1-0 in the Slovenian Cup.
In season 1999/2000, they reached the group stage of the UEFA Champions League after eliminating Genk of Belgium and Olympique Lyon of France.
In the past two years, they made it to the group stage of the UEFA Europa League twice. In 2011/12, they eliminated F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg in the qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League. They lost to Maccabi Haifa of Israel in the third qualifying round but in the fourth qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League, they eliminated Glasgow Rangers to reach the group stage.
In 2012/13, they eliminated Zeljeznicar Sarajevo of Bosnia and F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg in the second and third qualifying rounds of the UEFA Europa League, losing to Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia in the fourth qualifying round. However they still made it to the group stage of the UEFA Europa League.
The season 2013/14 for Maribor started last week with a 3-0 win over NK Olimpija Ljubljana to claim the Slovenian Super Cup. Then on Friday, they defeated NK Zavrč 2-1 in the first league match.
The Stripes have been taking part in UEFA competitions uninterruptedly since 1997/98. They reached a second round twice. In the UEFA Cup 2001/02, they eliminated FC Lokomotiv Tbilisi following a goalless draw at Ta’ Qali an a 1-1 draw in Tbilisi to qualify on the away goals rule. In 2010/11, they eliminated FC Santa Coloma of Andorra in the UEFA Champions League, thanks to a 3-0 win by default in Andorra and a 4-3 win at the Centenary Stadium.
The second leg will be played on Wednesday 24th July at the Stadion Ljudski vrt, Maribor, kick-off at 20:00.