Valletta take on FC Astana in first leg of UEFA Europa League third qualifying round

Champions Valletta will be facing FC Astana in the first leg of the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League champions path at the Astana Arena in Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan on Thursday, kick-off at 16:00.

The Citizens had eliminated F91 Dudelange on the away-goals rule thanks to a 2-2 draw away from home and a 1-1 draw at Centenary Stadium but in the second qualifying round, against Ferencvaros, they lost the first leg 3-1 away from home with the second leg ending in a 1-1 draw.

On the other hand, Astana suffered an early exit from the UEFA Champions League after being eliminated by CFR Cluj of Romania with a 3-2 aggregate score in the first qualifying round but in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League, they beat FC Santa Coloma of Andorra with a 4-1 aggregate score.

Astana Football Club were founded as Lokomotiv Astana in 2009 with the club changing its name to Astana in 2011. They won five successive championships in the last five years apart from winning three Kazakhstan Cups and four Super Cups. This year, the football season in Kazakhstan comes to an end this weekend. Astana lie one point behind leaders FK Tobol with one match to go.

Astana have been taking part in European competitions for the past seven years, reaching the group stage of either the UEFA Champions League or the UEFA Europa League for the past four years.

However the Citizens will be all out to secure a historic place in the Play-Off Round of the UEFA Europa League. They lost just one match out of the four they played so far in the competition despite the fact that new Valletta coach Darren Abdilla was unable to field his best formation so far.

Jonathan Caruana, Santiago Malano and Bojan Kaljevic are still ruled out injured while Steve Borg serves his second match out of a three-match ban. However Nicholas Pulis will be back after serving a one-match ban while Douglas Packer should return after skipping the second leg with Ferencvaros due to an injury.

The trip to Kazakhstan was an extremely long one for the Valletta contingent as they arrived late on Tuesday night after leaving Malta on Monday, travelling via Istanbul.

In Kazakhstan, the Citizens will be aiming at getting a result which keeps alive chances of making it to the next stage. Of utmost importance is trying to score one or more goals which would keep their chances wide open.

The second leg will be played at the National Stadium on August 15. The winner of this tie will be facing FK Sarajevo of Bosnia-Herzegovina or BATE Borisov of Belarus in the Play-Off Round.