Balzan and Floriana are in for tough tests on Thursday as they face Videoton and FK Crvena Zvezda in the first leg of the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League.
Floriana take on Red Star at the Stadion Rajko Mitić in Belgrade, kick-off at 20:30 while Balzan face Videoton at the Pancho Aréna in Felcsút, kick-off at 20:45.
After winning the FA Trophy, the Greens secured the services of Maltese Australian defender James Baldacchino, Brazilian Arthur Henrique and Ghanian Noel Nyason. Amadou Samb, on the other hand, was not retained while the contract of Antonio Monticelli expired.
Floriana are well aware that Red Star are a very tough nut to crack but will be hoping for a good performance in Belgrade after Valletta lost narrowly to them last season. In fact, in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers, Red Star had defeated Valletta with two identical 2-1 scores. Red Star had also met Hibernians in 1981 in the Champions Cup, winning 2-1 in Malta and 8-1 in Belgrade.
FK Crvena Zvezda won the championship a record 27 times – the Yugoslav championship 19 times, the First League of Serbia & Montenegro 5 times and the Serbian Super Liga three times. They won the cup a record 24 times – twelve Yugoslav Cups, nine Serbia & Montenegro Cups and three Serbian Cups. They won the Champions Cup in 1991 after defeating Olympique Marseille on penalties and went on to win the Intercontinental Cup after defeating Colo Colo of Chile 3-0.
Last season, they finished second in the Super Liga and lost the Cup final to champions and eternal rivals Partizan. Towards the end of the season, Red Star sacked coach Miodrag Božović and he has now been replaced by Vladan Milojević is the new manager – a former player of Red Star – who had a very good season as the manager of Panionios.
They signed Filip Stojković from Munchen 1860, Ricardinho and Vujadin Savić from Sheriff and Marko Gobeljić from Napredak. On the other hand, Predrag Sikimić, Marko Petković, Aleksandar Luković, Petar Orlandić and Marko Poletanović were released or moved elsewhere.
For this first leg, Milojević could not count on the suspended Guelor Kanga while Filip Manojlović, Srđan Plavšić and Mihailo Ristić will probably be rested as they formed part of the Under-21 side which took part in the UEFA Under-21 Championship in Poland.
Meanwhile in Hungary, Balzan take on Videoton FC.
The Premier League runners-up were quite active in the transfer market with the signing of Malta Under-21 international Michael Johnson, Serbian duo Uros Ljubomirac and Milan Savic and Brazilians Alex da Paixao Alves and Carlos Eduardo de Fiori Mendes and young goalkeeper Dorian Bugeja apart from the appointment of Marko Micovic as their new coach. Alan da Silva Souza, Anderson Francisco de Barros and Abdelkarim Nafti were not retained.
Despite being eliminated from the first qualifying round last season, Balzan registered their first win in Europe as they beat Neftçi PFC 2-1 in Baku and therefore hope for a good performance in Hungary.
Videoton FC were founded in 1941 and are based in Székesfehérvár, in the west of Hungary. They won the Hungarian League twice in 2011 and 2015, the Hungarian Cup once, the defunct Hungarian League Cup three times and the Hungarian Super Cup twice. The most successful period in Videoton’s history came in the mid-1980s when Ferenc Kovács led the club to the final of the UEFA Cup in 1985. They won its first Hungarian League title in 2011 and managed to reach the group stages of the Europa League in the 2012/13 season.
Last season, they reached the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League after eliminating Zaria Balti of Moldova and Cukaricki of Serbia but were eliminated by Midtjylland of Denmark.