After registering three wins in their last three outings, Hamrun Spartans will be aiming for another good performance and possibly another positive result as they host PFC Levski Sofia of Bulgaria in the first leg of the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League at the National Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 19:30.
The Spartans had lost 1-0 to Alashkert in Armenia in the first leg of the first qualifying round but bounced back with a 4-1 win at the Centenary Stadium to secure a place in the second round and back-to-back 1-0 wins over Velez Mostar ensured they reached the third qualifying round for the first time.
Speaking on Wednesday, coach Branko Nisevic said that Malta having three clubs reaching this stage was already a big achievement but the objective should be that of having a team in the group stage in the coming years.
“We reached a kind of a milestone, now having three teams in the third round is very important. Very important for football over here to give some benefit even for the work that has been done at club level. Now I think the next milestone in the next two years is to have a team in the Conference League (group stage). That would be really a great achievement that would give a great push to local football.”
Nisevic is aware Levski are a stronger side compared to Alashkert and Velez but insisted on maintaining the same game play.
“What we can do from our side is always to do what we want to do in the best possible way. There will be games like let’s say next game that opponents will try to prevent us from doing what we want to do. So if they are good in it, we might find it difficult but nevertheless we need to insist on our game play, on our principles because if we believe in something we should try to do the best out of it. We know that against tomorrow’s opponents it will be harder than in the last two rounds that we played but we have to do our best in our game principles and if we do it well, I think we will come out of the game with a positive active result which will keep the game open till the very end.”
Matthew Guillaumier said that despite the several new arrivals, the team gelled together quite well.
“It takes time for a team to gel together but I think that we gelled together quite well. There is a good group and a good atmosphere, even in the dressing room. Thanks to the coach, we know what to do on the pitch, which helps a lot as everybody is focussed on his task and everything is in place during the games.”
With regards to the arrival of Malta international forward Luke Montebello, who joined the club from Birkirkara, Guillaumier said “We all know what a good striker he is. A good addition to the squad, a nice character and another Maltese player in the squad who is an international as well. So we are very happy to have Luke and hopefully he can do very well with us.”
Levski Sofia are one of the biggest clubs in Bulgaria. They 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 with Levski 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.
The second leg is scheduled for Thursday 11 at the Stadion Georgi Asparuhov in Sofia. The winner of the clash between Hamrun and Levski will face the loser of the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round clash between AEK Larnaca FC of Cyprus and FK Partizan of Serbia.