Hibernians take on FC Shakhtyor Soligorsk of Belarus in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round at the Stroitel Stadium in Soligorsk on Thursday, kick-off at 19:00 CET.
Despite finishing in the runner-up spot last season, the Paolites made several changes to the squad with all foreigners apart from goalkeeper Marko Jovicic and Brazilian defender Marcio Barbosa da Silveira. In fact, Nemanja Radojevic, Isaac Ntow, Tiago Adan Fonseca and Taylon Nicolas Correa Marcolino no longer feature in the Hibs squad. Andrei Spiteri left the club to join Senglea Athletic. On the other hand, new arrivals include goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona from St. Andrews, Ferdinando Apap from Victoria Hotspurs, former Tarxien defender Jens Wemmer, Italian striker Leonardo Nanni and Dutch forward Terence Groothusen.
This will be the second time, Hibernians will be flying to Belarus after being eliminated with a 6-5 aggregate score by Dinamo Minsk in the qualifying round of the UEFA Cup in 1994. This time in Soligorsk, the Paolites will be aiming for a result which would keep alive hopes of securing qualification in the second leg next week.
FC Shakhtyor Soligorsk is a Belarusian Premier League club, playing in the city of Soligorsk. The club was founded in 1961. During Soviet era Shakhtyor Soligorsk was playing in top or second division of Belarusian SSR league, occasionally dropping to lower tiers for a short time. In 1971 Shakhtyor absorbed two other local Soligorsk teams (Khimik and Gornyak). Their best results came at the end of Soviet days, when the team finished as league runners-up twice (1988, 1990) and won Belarusian SSR Cup three times (1985, 1986, 1988).
Since 1992, Shakhtyor has been playing in Belarusian Premier League. The team struggled through the 90s, usually fighting against relegation but since 1999, they have never finished below 6th place and became a staple European Cups participant. Shakhtyor Soligorsk became the champions of Belarus in 2005 and were league runners-up six times. They also won Belarusian Cup three times.
Their best run in UEFA competitions was in season 2014/15 when they reached the play-offs of the UEFA Europa League after eliminating Derry City and Zulte Waregem but were eliminated by PSV Eindhoven.
They are currently third in the Premier League in Belarus on 31 points, five behind Dinamo Brest and three behind BATE Borisov. Last year, they finished in the runner-up spot behind champions BATE Borisov and won the Cup after defeating Vitebsk 2-0.
The winner of this tie will be facing Esbjerg of Denmark in the second qualifying round.