Hibernians will be aiming for a positive result as they face Estonian champions FC Flora Tallinn in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round at the A. Le Coq Arena (Lilleküla Stadium) in Tallinn on Tuesday, kick-off at 18:00.
The Paolites were lying in second place when the BOV Premier League was interrupted and eventually terminated due to a ban by health authorities on organised sports. However they were handed the UEFA Champions League spot after champions Hamrun Spartans were denied access to the UEFA Champions League by the UEFA Appeals Body.
Led once again by coach Stefano Sanderra, Hibernians know that although Flora hold a better coefficient, qualifying from this stage is not an impossible task. Four years ago, Hibs had already managed to eliminate another Estonian team, FCI Tallinn, from the first qualifying round of the Champions League in 2017, defeating them 2-0 at home and 1-0 away from home.
This summer, the Hibs squad has been strengthened with the signing of goalkeepers Nicky Vella and Jonathan Debono and forwards Erjon Beu, Brian Thaylor Lubanzadio Aldama, Francis Sarfo Mensah and Wilfried Domoraud.
Jonathan Debono’s arrival was a late addition of the squad following an injury sustained by goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona. Debono is due to return with Sirens after the European club competition commitments with Hibernians are over.
Five players are back with the club after spending last season, or part of last season on loan, namely Myles Beerman from Sliema Wanderers, Timothy Tabone Desira and Edafe Uzeh from Santa Lucia, Daneel Abela from Senglea Athletic and Connor Zammit from Pembroke Athleta.
Although Gilmar is still on the books of Hibernians, he does not feature in the squad which travelled to Tallinn while Gabriel Izquier, Jose Wilkson Teixeira and Imanol Iriberri are no longer with the club.
The Paolites’ opponents on Tuesday, FC Flora were drawn with Floriana last year in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League. They managed to defeat the Greens on penalties following a goalless draw in the single leg played at National Stadium, Ta’ Qali.
FC Flora Tallinn won more trophies than any other club in Estonian football, with a record 13 league titles, eight Cups and a record eleven Super Cups. They are currently second in the Meistriliiga with 11 wins and three draws from fourteen matches, four points behind FCI Levadia Tallinn but Flora have two games in hand.
Last season, FK Flora were eliminated from the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League after losing on penalties to FK Suduva of Lithuania but then eliminated KR Reykjavik of Iceland and Floriana in the second and third qualifying rounds of the UEFA Europa League, exiting the competition following a 1-3 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the play-off round.
The second leg will be played at the Centenary Stadium on Tuesday 13, kick-off at 18:00.
In case of success in this two-legged tie, Hibernians would face the winners of the clash between Bodø/Glimt of Norway and Legia Warszawa of Poland.
On the other hand, should Hibernians lose out to FC Flora Tallinn in this two-legged tie, they enter the second qualifying round champions path of the UEFA Europa Conference League where they would face SS Folgore of San Marino.