Difficult test for champions Valletta

UEFA-Champions-LeagueValletta will be aiming for a good performance as they host Qarabağ FK in the first leg of the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League at the National Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 18:30.

This will definitely be no easy task for the team led by Gilbert Agius as although Qarabağ Ağdam FK are participating in the UEFA Champions League for the first time, they have quite a good record in the UEFA Europa League as in recent years, they managed to reach the third qualifying round or even the play-offs stage, only to be eliminated by top teams like Twente, Borussia Dortmund, Club Brugge and Eintracht Frankfurt.

In fact, Qarabağ FK reached the play-offs stage in the UEFA Europa League on three occasions – in 2009/10 they eliminated Roseborg and Honka but lost to Twente, in 2010/1, they eliminated FK Metalurg, Portadown and Wisla Krakow but lost to Borussia Dortmund and last season, when they eliminated FK Metalurg, Piast Gliwice and Gefle IF before losing to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Valletta, on the other hand, are still hoping to become the first Maltese club to reach the third qualifying round of a UEFA competition. They qualified for a second round in the UEFA Champions League in 1999 after eliminating Barry Town of Wales, the UEFA Europa League in 2009 after eliminating Keflavik of Iceland, the UEFA Champions League in 2011 after eliminating Tre Fiori of San Marino, the UEFA Champions League in 2012 after eliminating Lusitanos of Andorra and the UEFA Europa League last season after eliminating La Fiorita of San Marino.

This summer, the Citizens had to deal with the departure of a number of players including goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili, midfielder Irakli Maisuradze, Alan da Silva Souza, Steve Borg, Edmond Agius, Dyson Falzon and Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza, apart from fringe players Vladimir Rassulov, Aziz Corr Nyang, Seun Abayomi Owonikoko and Oscar Reyes Sanchez. Coach Andre Paus who led the club to its twenty-second Premier League title also left the club.

To make matters worse, in recent days, Denni Rocha dos Santos had to return to his home country while Hamza Barry is set to join Esperance in Tunisia.

Gilbert Agius was appointed as new coach and the team has been strengthened with the signing of goalkeeper Nicky Vella from Tarxien, Ryan Camilleri from Hibernians, Maltese-Australian winger Adrian Zahra, Portuguese midfielder Hugo Faria, Hamed Al Kamali from the UAE and Cameroonian striker Raphael Alain Kooh-Sohna from Pietà.

Adrian Zahra is ruled out injured along with Llywelyn Cremona and goalkeeper Manuel Bartolo and are therefore unavailable for Tuesday’s clash.

This is the second time, a club from Malta and the Azerbaijan were paired together after Khazar Lankaran eliminated Sliema Wanderers in the UEFA Europa League with a 2-1 aggregate score last summer.