Following the historic night during which Gzira United, Hamrun Spartans and Hibernians secured a place in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League, the focus will turn to their opponents in the next stage.
For the first time, three clubs made it to the third round as on previous occasions, it was only one club who reached this stage. Birkirkara had reached the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League in 2016/17, Valletta in 2019/20 and Floriana in 2020/21 while last season, it was the turn of Hibernians to reach the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League. Therefore while for Hibernians, this will be the second successive participation in the third qualifying round, for Gzira and Hamrun, this will be the first time ever they will play in this stage.
Gzira United will be facing Wolfsberger AC of Austria, Hamrun Spartans take on Levski Sofia of Bulgaria while Hibernians will be meeting FK RFS of Latvia.
According to the draw, the three teams were due to play the first leg away from home but at least one of the fixtures will be switched by UEFA.
Gzira United’s opponents are Wolfsberger AC.
Wolfsberger AC, commonly referred to as Wolfsberg or WAC, are based in Wolfsberg, Carinthia.
After having played the majority of its existence in the lower leagues, Wolfsberger AC finished their 2011/12 season as champions of the 2011/12 Austrian Football First League (the then second division) and earned promotion to the Austrian Bundesliga for the first time in the club’s history, in which they finished fifth at the end of the 2012–13 Austrian Football Bundesliga. Their first participation in a UEFA competition was in season 2015/16 where they were eliminated from the third round of the UEFA Europa League.
Wolfsberg finished third in the 2018/19 which qualified them for the 2019/20 UEFA Europa League group stage. They finished in fourth place in Group J of the UEFA Europa League in the 2019/20 season.
In 2020/21, they entered Group K of the UEFA Europa League, finishing second in a group which featured CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Zagreb and Feyenoord, qualifying for the Round of 32 where they were eliminated by Tottenham.
The 2022/23 Austrian Bundesliga kicked-off last weekend with Wolfberger being held in a 1-1 draw by Sturm Graz. Last season, Wolfsberger finished in joint-second place in the Austrian Bundesliga with Sturm Graz, eighteen points behind champions RB Salzburg.
In six previous encounters between teams from Malta and Austria in the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Intertoto Cup, the Austrians registered ten wins in ten matches.
The opponents for Hamrun Spartans are Levski Sofia.
Levski Sofia are based in Sofia, Bulgaria. The club was founded on 24 May 1914 by a group of high school students, and is named after Vasil Levski, a Bulgarian revolutionary renowned as the national hero of the country.
Levski has won a total of 74 trophies, including 26 national titles, 26 national cups and 3 super cups, as well as thirteen domestic doubles and one treble. It is also the only Bulgarian football club to have never been relegated from the top division since the establishment of the league system in 1937. Levski has reached the quarter-finals of UEFA competitions for five times and in 2006, they became the first Bulgarian club to enter the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
Last season, Levski placed fourth behind champions Ludogorets Razgrad, runners-up CSKA Sofia and third-placed Botev Plovdiv. However they won the Bulgarian Cup after defeating eternal rivals CSKA Sofia 1-0.
The Bulgarian league kicked-off earlier this month. losing 0-1 to CSKA 1948 Sofia and winning 5-0 against Spartak Varna. In the UEFA Europa Conference league, they defeated PAOK 2-0 at home, holding them in a 1-1 draw in Thessaloniki.
Clubs from Malta and Bulgaria were drawn together six times with the Bulgarians winning the ten matches.
Hibernians’ opponents are FK RFS.
FK RFS, in short for FK Rigas Futbola Skola, are based in Riga, Latvia.
They were initially a youth football team within the JFC Skonto – the academy of Skonto Riga. Their coach founded the Daugava football school taking the players with him. In 2005, FSK Daugava was established, taking part in the Latvian second division, winning promotion to the top division at the end of the season. In 2011, the name of the club was changed to Rigas Futbola Skola.
RFS were promoted to the Latvian top division – Virsliga for 2016 when Skonto FC did not obtain a license.
In 2019/20, RFS participated for the first time in the UEFA Europa League, losing 4-3 on aggregate to Olimpija Ljubljana despite a 3-2 win away from home. The following season, they were eliminated from the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League by Partizan. In 2021/22, they made it to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference league, eliminating KI Klaksvik of the Faroe Islands and Puskas Akademia of Hungary.
This season, they were eliminated by HJK Helsinki of Finland from the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League on penalties but were awarded a bye to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League.
RFS won the 2021 championship ahead of Valmiera, Liepaja and Riga and went on to win the Latvian Cup, defeating Liepaja 1-0. This season, after playing twenty two matches, they are currently second on 49 points, seven behind leaders Valmiera and two ahead of Riga.
This is the second time, Hibernians will be facing a team from Latvia after being eliminated from the UEFA Europa Conference League last season with a 4-2 aggregate score by Riga FC.
Clubs from Malta and Latvia had earlier been drawn together twice. In 1997, Valletta were eliminated by Skonto Riga but in 2003 Sliema eliminated Skonto Riga – both encounters from the UEFA Champions League.