UEFA Europa League: Birkirkara, Sliema seek second qualifying round spots

UEFA-Europa-LeagueBirkirkara and Sliema Wanderers will be aiming for a place in the next round as the second legs of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round will be played on Thursday.

The Stripes host Diosgyor at the National Stadium, kickoff at 19:30; Sliema Wanderers face Ferencvaros at the Puskas Ferenc Stadion in Budapest at 20:30 while at 19:30, Hibernians meet Spartak Trnava at the Stadion FC ViOn in Zlate Moravce.

In the first legs, Birkirkara lost 2-1 to Diosgyor in Hungary while at Ta’ Qali, Sliema Wanderers drew 1-1 with Ferencvaros and Hibernians lost 2-4 to Spartak Trnava. Therefore the Stripes and the Wanderers do have realistic chances of making it to the second qualifying round.

In Debrecen, Birkirkara gave a very good account of themselves, equalising just a couple of minutes after going one goal down through Matheus Bissi da Silva and even if the Brazilian defender was sent off early in the second half, the Stripes continued to share the exchanges with their opponents, being unlucky to concede a goal three minutes in added time.

A win is a must for Birkirkara to reach the next stage, therefore setting a clash with FC Veris Chișinău of Moldova or PFC Litex Lovech of Bulgaria. With a 1-0 win or any win by a two-goal difference, Birkirkara would qualify. On the other hand, a draw or even a loss by one goal (2-3, 3-4, etc.) would be enough for Fradi. With a 2-1 win for Birkirkara, the game would go into extra-time.

For Birkirkara, who have been taking part in UEFA competitions on a regular basis since 1997, this would be their third qualification to a further round after eliminating Lokomotiv Tbilisi of Georgia on the away goals rule in the UEFA Cup 2001/02 and FC Santa Coloma of Andorra in the UEFA Champions League 2010/11.

At the Puskas Ferenc Stadion in Budapest, Sliema Wanderers target a 2-2 draw which would see them through after the 1-1 draw in the first leg.

The Blues held the initiative for most of the ninety minutes, creating chances thanks to which they could have secured victory. They even missed an early penalty as Michael Mifsud hit wide.

Should they qualify, Sliema will be facing HNK Rijeka of Croatia in the next round. On four occasions, the Wanderers had reached a further round of a UEFA competition – having eliminated US Rumelange of Luxembourg from the Cup Winners Cup 1968/69, IA Akranes of Iceland in the Champions Cup 1971/72, Margveti Zestafoni of Georgia in the UEFA Cup 1996/97 and Skonto Riga of Latvia in the Champions League 2003/04.

Meanwhile Hibernians’ chances are close to zero after suffering a 2-4 defeat to Spartak Trnava in the first leg last week. Only a 3-0 win in Zlate Moravce would enable them to qualify.

At Ta’ Qali, the dismissal of Jonathan Pearson and a penalty paved the way for what seemed to be heading for a comfortable win for the visitors who increased the lead to three goals by the end of the first half. Hibernians hit back with two goals by Andrew Cohen and Clayton Failla early in the second half but Spartak Trnava sealed the issue with a fourth goal three minutes from time.

The winner will be facing FC Zestafoni of Georgia in the next round.