Birkirkara start as favourites to win as they host La Fiorita of San Marino in the first leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 20:00.
This will be La Fiorita’s second visit to Malta after being drawn with Valletta in the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round in 2013. The Citizens won 3-0 in San Marino and 1-0 at the Hibernians Stadium. Valletta had also eliminated Tre Fiori of San Marino two years earlier in the Champions League in the only other clash between clubs from Malta and San Marino.
Addressing the media on Monday, Birkirkara coach Andre Paus said it would still be a difficult game although they aim at securing a place in the next round of the competition.
“This is a very important game for us. We are approaching it very seriously as it is a very important game for the club – for the players, the supporters and the staff.”
“We have to be focussed and fully concentrated. There are no easy games in football and so we have to be well-prepared and concentrate on the game. If the players do their task, I believe we will achieve a good result.”
Andre Paus said that after six weeks of pre-season training, he believes the team is well-prepared for this game and is confident Birkirkara would achieve a positive result.
Although there are no injured players, everything depends on the condition of the players, who like all other local clubs have been inactive since March.
“This will be our first game after four months. However we are all excited to play the first game, especially considering that this is a match from a European competition. For the players, it would be a good experience. I am confident that we will be focussed and concentrated to achieve a good result.”
“We have to be ‘greedy’ and stay with our feet on the ground. There is no pressure … I do not put pressure on the players as pressure brings negative energy to the players. Players have to be focussed and concentrated and my task is to get the players ready for the game. “
Captain Cain Attard added that the clash with La Fiorita was an important game since Birkirkara would be playing once again in a UEFA competition after absence of three years.
“In such competitions, there are no easy games but we believe in our qualities. We have been working hard for the past six weeks. We know our qualities and will try to make the most out of this.”
“We need to stay with our feet on the ground in order to achieve our objective to win the game and eventually reach the next round.”
With regards to the return of spectators to the stadium, Attard said “For the past year and a half, we were playing in empty stadiums. Fans give you the necessary push, especially when the team is going through a negative moment during a game. We are excited to see supporters back on the stands and hopefully, the number will soon be much larger than two hundred.”
Last season, Birkirkara were lying in fourth place in the BOV Premier League when the league was interrupted and eventually terminated due to a ban by health authorities on organised sports.
Since last season, the team went through a number of changes as goalkeepers Alessandro Guarnone and Andrew Hogg, Caio Henrique Prado, Alex da Paixao Alves and Reginald Mbu Alidor moved elsewhere. New arrivals include Portuguese goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes, Brazilian midfielder Diego Silva Venancio and the young Jed Valletta. Ryan Scicluna returns with the club after moving to Sirens last season while Johann Bezzina is back after spending last season on loan with Mosta.
La Fiorita were founded in 1967 and are based in Montegiardino, San Marino. They won the championship five times, the last time being in 2017/18 but finished as runners-up last season after losing the play-offs final 0-1 after extra-time to Folgore. However, they won the Coppa Titano – their sixth success in the competition – on penalties, defeating Tre Fiori. They won the Super Cup once and the Trofeo Federale three times.
They have been participating regularly in UEFA club competitions since 2012/13, so far earning just one draw in a match against Linfield of Northern Ireland.
The second leg will be played on Thursday 15 at the San Marino Stadium, kick-off at 20:45.
If successful, Birkirkara would face Olimpija Ljubljana of Slovenia in the second qualifying round of the competition, first leg to be played in Ljubljana.