Floriana hope to shock CFR Cluj in UEFA Champions League first qualifying round

Floriana host CFR Cluj of Romania in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League at the Centenary Stadium on Wednesday, kick-off at 21:00.

For this season, qualifying round matches are played in single legs and therefore if the result is still draw at the end of the ninety minutes, extra time and the penalty shoot-out if required would determine the winner. The winner advances to the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round where they would host GNK Dinamo of Croatia. The loser will progress to the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round which will be played in mid-September.

On paper, CFR Cluj start as favourites considering that they reached the group stages of UEFA competitions on various occasions.

In 2009/10, they reached the group stage of the UEFA Europa League and the following season, they played in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. In 2012/13, they entered the Champions League from the third qualifying round and reached the group stage where they placed third, moving to the UEFA Europa League where they were eliminated by Inter. Last season, they entered the UEFA Champions League from the first qualifying round and advanced to the play-offs where they were eliminated by Slavia Prague, moving on to the UEFA Europa League where they finished second, only to lose to Seville on the away goal in the next round.

However, with this tie being decided over ninety minutes, anything can happen.

Addressing the media on Tuesday, Floriana coach Enzo Potenza said “We are ready to play this game. A difficult game against a team who did well in Europe in recent years. We know the strength of team, the ability of their coach and their tradition. We will doing our best to do well and try to make it to the next round.”

The Greens had the opportunity to attend a training camp in Marcellano di Gualdo Cattaneo in the province of Perugia. Potenza thanked the club for giving them this opportunity.

“We started our pre-season in scorching heat in Malta and went to Italy to take advantage of the temperature. On our return back to Malta, we evaluated the work done and I believe the response of the players has been excellent, both physically and mentally.”

Potenza added that he has the full squad at his disposal and would make his final choices after watching the players in action in their last training session.

With regards to having this tie decided over ninety minutes, the Floriana coach said “Having to play over just ninety minutes could have different implications. Our opponents are a strong team which reached the group stage of the Europa League and did very well in recent years, winning three consecutive championships. Tomorrow we need to be concentrated until the final whistle. I stressed on concentration and limit the mistakes as they could prove fatal.”

With regards to the choice of playing at the Centenary Stadium, Vicnenzo Potenza said “Since we had the opportunity to choose, we chose the Centenary Stadium. I cannot see what the problem is. It is a stadium approved by UEFA. I do not think this could make a difference for a club like Cluj. We play here several league matches and so, having the option, we chose what we think would be better for us.”

The Floriana coach added that he was confident about his players that they work hard daily. He said the result sometimes depends on episodes. We are obliged to do our best and considering the path taken to reach this point, we cannot underestimate no opponent. It will be a game like any other. We will do our best just as we did before.”

Captain Jurgen Pisani added “We have been preparing for a long time. We are ready to face this strong team and I am sure we will go on the pitch to give our hundred percent.”

With regards to the training camp, Pisani said “When you spend time together, there is more bonding within the team. I am sure this training camp was beneficial not only for this game but also for the Premier League campaign.”

“When you face such teams, which you are used to watch playing at higher levels, for the player, this is of great motivation … trying to achieve a result in the ninety minutes. It would be of great satisfaction for the players, supporters and club administration.”

Fotbal Club CFR 1907 Cluj, commonly known as CFR Cluj are based in the city of Cluj-Napoca. It was founded in 1907, when Transylvania was part of Austria-Hungary.

Leading them is coach Dan Petrescu – a former player of Foggia, Genoa, Sheffield Wednesday, Chelsea, Bradofrd City and Southampton after starting his career with Steaua Bucharest.

Despite the fact that on paper, they start as favourites, Petrescu said “We are playing a very difficult match. We do not think about Dinamo Zagreb. I think our chances on Wednesday are 50-50. We are playing a team who has won the league.”

Petrescu is particularly worried on having to play on an artificial turf pitch. “We are playing on a synthetic field. I do not understand why we are playing on such a pitch when next to it there is a natural grass pitch where we can play football. I do not understand why. Then we have too many players injured and suspended. I know that Floriana have around 10 players who are Brazilian, Argentinean and Italian, who are very good players. I know because I managed to watch many of their games. For us it will be a very hard game. I watched the condition of the pitch. For sure, it would be very difficult. Anybody can win.”

Petrescu added that after winning a hard league campaign, they only had five days off and did not have enough time to prepare for this game. He added that Floriana had been working together and played some friendly matches and unlike his side, they have no missing players for Wednesday’s game.

Thirty four year old midfielder Ciprian Deac also said this would be a difficult game considering that the game will be played on an artificial pitch.

“It will be a difficult game, playing on an artificial turf. We are playing against a team which we do not know much about and therefore we are expecting a difficult game.”

CFR Cluj had spent most of its existence in the lower divisions but since returning to the top flight in 2004, the club has relied increasingly on foreign players for its success. In the 2005–06 season, they participated in their first European competition, the Intertoto Cup, finishing as runners-up. In the 2007–08 campaign, they were champions of Liga I for the first time in their history, taking the national title away from Bucharest-based teams after seventeen years and consequently qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stage in the process. Only six years earlier, CFR was playing in the third tier of the Romanian football league system. Between 2017 and 2020, they won three successive championships. CFR has won a total of thirteen domestic trophies – six Liga I, four Cupa României, and three Supercupa României.

Floriana, on the other hand, represented Malta on 25 different occasions in various European Competitions. This includes the UEFA Champions Cup, Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, UEFA Cup Winners Cup, UEFA Cup, and the UEFA Intertoto Cup. 

This includes representing Malta seven times in the UEFA Champions League – earlier known as the Champions Cup. In their last appearance in 1993, they eliminated Ekranas of Lithuania in the qualifying round and in the first round proper, lost 0-2 on aggregate to Porto. In 1999, they had eliminated Aberystwyth Town of Wales from the first round of the UEFA Intertoto Cup.

The Greens won twenty six championship and the FA Trophy twenty times.

This summer, the squad has been strengthened with the arrival of Nicola Leone, Flavio Silva Cheveresan and Siraj Arab Eddin while Daniel Agius is back with the club after a spell on loan with Santa Lucia.