B’Kara target qualification in Armenia — Balzan seek good result in Sarajevo

Both Birkirkara and Balzan will be playing away from home in the second legs of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round as the Stripes take on Ulisses FC of Armenia at the Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium in Yerevan, Armenia, kick-off at 18:00 while Balzan face FK Željezničar at the Asim Ferhatović Hase Stadion in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, kick-off at 21:15.

The two Maltese clubs have different objectives as while Birkirkara still aim at securing a place in the second qualifying round, Balzan could only realistically target a good performance in the Bosnian capital.

After a goalless draw at the Hibernians Stadium last week, FA Trophy winners Birkirkara need a draw with goals to secure a place in the next round where they would likely meet West Ham United who defeated Lusitans of Andorra 3-0 in the first leg.

New Birkirkara coach Giovanni Tedesco is unable to field his best formation as apart from Edward Herrera, Ryan Scicluna, Gareth Sciberras and Rafael Ledesma who all missed the first leg, he could not count on goalkeeper Justin Haber who sustained an injury in the first leg and had to be substituted. Ini Etim Akpan is therefore set to guard the posts.

The former Floriana coach is not expected to make changes in defence and probably midfield but it would be no surprise if he were to include Bosnian winger Edin Murga and possibly Italian striker Fabrizio Miccoli. Both were included as substitutes late in the game and both left a good impression as the Stripes increased the pressure on their opponents although they still failed to break the deadlock.

The Stripes, who have been taking part in UEFA competitions in a regular basis since 1997 reached a further round on two occasions. In 2001, they eliminated Lokomotiv Tbilisi of Georgia from the UEFA Cup thanks to the away goals rule while in 2010, they defeated FC Santa Coloma of Andorra with a 7-3 aggregate score.

Ulisses, on the other hand, are seeking their first ever qualification for a further round as they have been eliminated in the three previous occasions they took part in UEFA competitions. They need to beat Birkirkara but in doing so, they also need to score their first goal in a European competition.

Meanwhile in Sarajevo, Balzan will be aiming for a good performance as they face FK Željezničar.

At the Hibernians Stadium, the Bosnian side scored twice within the first thirteen minutes thanks to Rijad Bajić to practically seal qualification.

Balzan were definitely well aware of the difficulty in facing such an experienced side. To make matters worse, coach Oliver Spiteri could not count on new recruit Ryan Fenech as he was serving a one-match ban and Bojan Kaljevic who was recovering from an injury.

Ryan Fenech is set to make his debut for Balzan as he should be named in the starting line-up in Sarajevo. Kaljevic, on the other hand, could be included, at least as a substitute.

FK Željezničar, who have a record of nineteen wins and thirteen draws in fifty-seven matches, reached a further round on no less than thirteen occasions and in season 1984/85, they even reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup.

In the second qualifying round, FK Željezničar would meet either Go Ahead Eagles of the Netherlands or Ferencvaros of Hungary. The first leg in the Netherlands ended in a 1-1 draw.