After eliminating Široki Brijeg of Bosnia-Herzegovina with a 3-1 aggregate score, Birkirkara host Heart of Midlothian in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round at the Hibernians Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 20:30.
The Stripes were in excellent form last week as they registered a 2-0 win over the Široki Brijeg but obviously Hearts pose a much bigger threat. They defeated FC Infonet Tallinn 2-1 at Tynecastle Stadium and 4-2 at the A. Le Coq Arena in Tallinn for a 6-3 aggregate score.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Birkirkara coach Drazen Besek said his players are well prepared and are well aware against whom they shall be playing. He said he seeks growth from one game to another and Hearts should provide a good test to check what level the team has reached.
The Birkirkara coach admitted that he had only saw the highlights of Hearts’ clashes with Infonet Tallinn but pointed out that he knows well the Scottish philosophy of the game.
When asked by Scottish journalists regarding the possibility of a repeat of Gibraltar’s Licoln Red Imps’ shock win over Celtic, Besek said that such results could happen in football.
“If you are the better team, you should go on the pitch and show it. You should never underestimate your opponent,” said Besek.
For this game, Besek can count on three players who missed out the first qualifying round. Nikola Vukanac recovered fully after a long-term injury, Frank Temile returned to Malta after solving visa issues while Croatian defender Bruno Marotti joined the club last week. However their presence is in doubt as the Croatian coach is expected to rely on practically the same players who started the game last week apart from the injured Predrag Jovic.
Heart of Midlothian Football Club, commonly known as Hearts, are based in Edinburgh. They are the oldest football club in the Scottish capital, having formed in 1874.
Hearts have won the Scottish league championship four times, most recently in 1959–60, where they also retained the Scottish League Cup to complete a League and League Cup double – the only club outside of the Old Firm to achieve such a feat. Hearts have won the Scottish Cup eight times, most recently in 2012 after a 5–1 win over city-rivals Hibernian and the Scottish League Cup a total of four times, most recently in 1962 after a 1–0 victory against Kilmarnock. The most recent Scottish League Cup Final appearance was in 2013, when they lost to St Mirren 3–2.
Heart of Midlothian reached the quarter-finals of the 1988/89 UEFA Cup, narrowly losing out to Bayern Munich 2–1 on aggregate.
Their best run in recent years was reaching the group stage of the UEFA Europa League in 2004/05. In 2012, they took part in the fourth round of the UEFA Europa League but were eliminated with a 1-2 aggregate score by Liverpool.