FA Trophy winners Balzan host NK Domžale in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Tuesday, kick-off at 18:30.
As part of the preparations ahead of this clash, Balzan went for a training camp in Slovenia, playing three friendly matches. They drew 1-1 with newly-promoted Slovenian top division side NK Bravo while in the second match, Balzan defeated Serbian Super Liga side FK Voždovac while in the third match against Serbian Super Liga side FK Proleter Novi Sad, they drew 0-0.
During the close season, the squad has been strengthened with experienced players like goalkeeper Kristian Naumovski, central defender Augustine Loof, right winger Stefan Dimic and attacking midfielder Arthur FariaMachado. They also welcomed back three of their younger players – Neil Frendo, Jamie Zerafa and Zak Grech who were loaned to clubs in Serbia for what was definitely a valuable experience for these youngsters.
Since last year, goalkeeper Steve Sultana, defenders Elkin Serrano and Justin Grioli, midfielders Milos Lepovic and Carlos Eduardo de Fiori Mendes ‘Cadu’ and striker Siraj Arab Eddin are no longer in squad.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Balzan coach Jacques Scerri said he was satisfied with his players’ performance in the training camp and is now looking forward to Thursday’s clash.
When asked about Balzan’s chances to make it to the next round, Scerri said that he and the players believe they can make it.
Captain Steve Bezzina and club president Anton Tagliaferro appealed to fans to turn up at Ta’ Qali to support the team.
NK Domžale plays in the town of Domžale. They have won both the Slovenian League and the Slovenian Cup twice.
The club was founded in 1920 under the name SK Disk. However it was only in recent years that the club established itself among the top clubs in Slovenia. They won two consecutive championships in 2006/07 and 2007/08 and the Slovenian Cup in 2010/11 and 2016/17. Last season, they placed third and were eliminated from the Cup in the quarter-finals
Their best achievement in UEFA competitions was reaching the Play-Offs of the UEFA Europa League in 2017/18 after eliminating Flora Tallinn, Valur and SC Freiburg but were eliminated by Marseille.
Last season, Domzale placed third in the league behind Maribor and Olimpija Ljubljana.
In four clashes between teams from Malta and Slovenia, the Slovenian clubs emerged as winners as NK Primorje deliminated Marsaxlokk from the UEFA Cup in 2004, NK Maribor eliminated Birkirkara in 2007 and ND Gorica eliminated Hibernians from the Intertoto Cup while NK Maribor eliminated Birkirkara from the UEFA Champions League in 2013.
In the second qualifying round, should Balzan prevail over their Slovenian opponents, they would face the winner of the clash between Malmö (SWE) and Ballymena United (NIR).