Birkirkara will be facing West Ham United in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round at the Boleyn Ground on Thursday, kick-off at 20:45.
Following a goalless draw at the Hibs Stadium in the first leg against Ulisses FC, Birkirkara needed at least a draw with goals to progress to the second round and with a five-star performance the Stripes achieved their objective beating the Armenian side 3-1 in Yerevan to set-up the clash with the Hammers who on the other hand had eliminated FC Lusitans of Andorra with a 4-0 aggregate score.
Fabrizio Miccoli opened the score mid-way through the first half, Mauricio Mazzetti made it 2-0 just before half-time and after conceding one goal, it was Paul Fenech who sealed the issue with a third goal.
A clash with West Ham – the first time a local club was paired with an English team in over 35 years since Valletta were drawn with Leeds in the UEFA Cup in 1979 – is of huge prestige for Birkirkara.
In the previous clash with Lusitans, West Ham took the game more lightly and relied on some of the younger players in the squad and a few first-team professionals as the first-team and development players were holding a pre-season training camp in Ireland with new coach Slaven Bilic. Academy manager Terry Westley led the team from the dugout for these two matches.
Against Birkirkara, it would be a different story as Bilic is set to name a strong team as the Hammers try to make a statement of intent in the early part of pre-season.
Several players who featured in a friendly match at Peterborough United on Saturday, like Mark Noble, Aaron Cresswell, Kevin Nolan and Winston Reid, could be included on Thursday. Spanish midfielder Pedro Obiang, who joined the club from Sampdoria earlier this summer, is also expected to be named in the squad but Diafra Sakho and Dimitri Payet will both serve suspensions.
West Ham will play their 51st match in European competition when they welcome Birkirkara to the Boleyn Ground. They have won 26, drawn nine and lost fifteen of the previous fifty matches. They won the Cup Winners Cup in 1964/65 and were one of the winners of the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1999. Their last appearance in European football goes back to 2006 when they were eliminated by Palermo in the first round of the UEFA Cup following a 0-1 defeat at Upton Park and a 0-3 defeat in Palermo. On those occasions, Birkirkara coach Giovanni Tedesco was an unused substitute in the Palermo squad.
On Thursday, Tedesco is expected to make few changes to the team which won in Yerevan. With goalkeeper Justin Haber fully fit, the Malta international is set to start ahead of Ini Etim Akpan although the latter did well against Ulisses.
There will be no changes in defence and midfield with Zach Muscat, Nikola Vukanac, Mauricio Mazzetti and Joseph Zerafa employed at the back, Paul Fenech, Rowen Muscat and Ryan Camenzuli in midfield.
Fabrizio Miccoli and Edin Murga are also set to be named in the starting line-up with Liliu preferred to Vito Plut in attack.