After eliminating Keşla FK of Azerbaijan with a 5-3 aggregate score, Balzan take on Slovan Bratislava with the first leg scheduled at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 18:00.
Following the 4-1 win in the first leg, Balzan had to defend the result in Baku in order to reach a historic place in the second qualifying round of the competition. After going one goal down – a penalty early in the game, Marko Micovic’s side survived a siege by the Azerbaijani side thanks to a fine performance by the Balzan rear-guard and in particular goalkeeper Steve Sultana. Keşla managed to score a second goal in added time but substitute Andrija Majdevac pulled one back for Balzan. The young Serbian striker was sent off immediately after and is therefore ruled out on Thursday.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Marko Micovic admitted he was expecting a difficult game.
“Tomorrow we are expecting a hard game but this will be another opportunity to surprise. We are facing an opponent with a rich history who is therefore a firm favourite. However nobody can take away our right to hope and our wish to surprise our opponents,” said the Balzan coach.
“Slovan is favourite but in football, everything is possible. Nothing can stop us from hoping and believing. Surprises happen everyday. We analysed them thoroughly – we know their strengths and we hope to exploit their weaknesses.”
Micovic launched an appeal to Balzan fans and the Maltese general public to attend in large numbers in order o support the team in trying “to represent Maltese football in the best way we can.”
Captain Steve Bezzina said it was an honour for the club to reach this stage. He said Slovan are a very strong team but as it was the case with Keşla who were also a difficult team but Balzan still managed to qualify, they will do their best against Slovan Bratislava.
Defender Michael Johnson added that Balzan are well-prepared for these clashes after playing friendly matches against Rijeka and Vardar Skopje and the first qualifying round matches against Keşla. He said that in these matches, Balzan need to make the most out of their chances.
ŠK Slovan Bratislava were founded in 1919 and are based in Bratislava, Slovakia. They are the most successful team in Slovakia with the most titles in both league and cup in the country. Slovan Bratislava became the first and so far only club in Slovakia, as well as former Czechoslovakia, to win one of the European cup competitions, the Cup Winners’ Cup when they defeated Barcelona in the final in Basel in 1969.
Slovan Bratislava won the league in Czechoslovakia eight times, the old Slovak League four times, the Slovak Super Liga eight times, the Czechoslovak Cup five times, the Slovak Cup 15 times and apart from the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1968/69, they also were one of the winners of the Intertoto Cup nine times.
They finished second last season the Slovak Super Liga on 59 points from 32 matches, five points behind champions Spartak Trnava. They also won the Slovak Cup after defeating Ružomberok 3-1 in the final.
Slovan Bratislava have been participating regularly in UEFA competitions since 1957. In recent years, they made it twice to the group stage of the UEFA Europa League – in seasons 2011/12 and 2014/15, In summer 2015, they were eliminated from the third round by Krasnodar of Russia; from the second round in 2016, by Jelgava of Latvia and last year in the second round by Lyngby of Denmark. This season, they eliminated Milsami Orhei of Moldova, defeating them 4-2 in Moldova and 5-0 at home.