Birkirkara will be aiming for victory as they host Ulisses FC of Armenia in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round at the Hibernians Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 20:45.
The Stripes have been taking part in UEFA competitions uninterruptedly since 1997 and managed to reach the second round on two occasions – eliminating FC Lokomotivi Tbilisi of Georgia in 2001 and then FC Santa Coloma in 2010. Qualifying once again this season would mean that they could set up a clash with West Ham United or FC Lusitans of Andorra.
Birkirkara have gone through a number of changes since last season. Despite claiming two of the three major honours at stake – the BOV Super Cup and the Malta FA Trophy, many still considered the third-place finish in the BOV Premier League as highly disappointing.
Since then the Stripes terminated the contract of coach Paul Zammit by mutual consent, appointing former Floriana coach Giovanni Tedesco as their new mentor. They signed three new players – Slovenian striker Vito Plut, Bosnian winger Edin Murga and Italian forward Fabrizio Miccoli. These three are set for their debut although the former Juventus, Fiorentina, Palermo and Lecce forward will be starting on the bench.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Tedesco said that this game be a bit emotional for him, being his debut but said that he is curious to see how his players will react after this early pre-season training camp which also took the squad to Roccaporena in Italy.
Most of the Birkirkara players had practically no rest. In fact, after the FA Trophy final which was played on the 22nd May, no less than nine Birkirkara players joined the senior national team or the Under-21 national squads which were preparing for the games against Lithuania and Bulgaria and the Under-21 qualifiers against Moldova and Latvia.
Edward Herrera, Ryan Scicluna and Gareth Sciberras are ruled out of this game – Herrera is currently on honeymoon while Scicluna and Sciberras are recovering from injuries.
Giovanni Tedesco said that he was confident his players will play a good game although Ulisses FC were a good team with good central defenders and good strikers. However he stressed that focussing on his team’s qualities was far more important.
Tedesco said that a possible clash with West Ham United was obviously an extra stimulus for his players but they had to focus first on overcoming the challenge offered by the Armenian side. He said he was confident he has a strong team which could achieve this target.
Captain Paul Fenech said players had to be fully concentrated in these two games against Ulisses FC in order to be able to qualify for the next stage.
Team Manager Michael Valenzia admitted that many are eager to set up the clash with West Ham, who face Lusitanos of Andorra in another first qualifying round clash, but to achieve this objective, Birkirkara had to beat Ulisses in this two-legged tie.
Ulisses Football Club, are based in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan. The club was founded in 2000 as Dinamo-2000 FC and first changed their name in 2004 to Dinamo-Zenit FC and eventually to Ulisses FC in 2006.
Ulisses won their first major honour in 2011 when they won Armenian championship for the first time in club history, therefore ending Pyunik’s dominance of ten consecutive championships. Last season, they placed second, eleven points behind champions Pyunik. They were eliminated from the quarter-finals of the Armenian Cup.
This will be the fourth time, they are taking part in a UEFA competition after losing on a 0-1 aggregate to Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv of Israel in the Europa League 2010/11, 0-5 to Ferencvaros in the UEFA Europa League 2011/12 and 0-2 to FC Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova in the UEFA Champions League 2012/13.
The second leg will be played in Yerevan on July 9.