Hamrun Spartans face difficult Partizan task in Belgrade

After securing a historic qualification thanks to a 4-1 win on penalties over Levski Sofia of Bulgaria, Hamrun Spartans entertain FK Partizan of Serbia in the first leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League play-off round at the Stadion Partizana in Belgrade on Thursday, kick-off at 21:00.

The Spartans had started their European commitments with a 1-0 defeat to Alashkert in Armenia but at the Centenary Stadium, they bounced back with an impressive 4-1 win. Hamrun, then, registered back-to-back 1-0 wins over Velez Mostar of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the second qualifying round before losing narrowly to Levski at Ta’ Qali, conceding a 95th minute goal. In Sofia, Hamrun had to beat Levski by one goal to force extra-time. They won 2-1 and with no goals being scored in extra-time, the Spartans prevailed on penalties with goalkeeper Henry Bonello neutralising two attempts by the Bulgarians.

In Serbia, the Spartans should welcome back Malta international defender Steve Borg who skipped the second leg with Levski as he got married last week.

Photos courtesy of domenic aquilina

Hamrun’s opponents, Fudbalski klub Partizan play in the Serbian SuperLiga and have spent its entire history in the top tier of Yugoslav and Serbian football having won a total of 45 official trophies, finishing in the Yugoslav league all-time table as second.

Founded by young high officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) in 1945 in Belgrade, as part of the Yugoslav Sports Association Partizan, they hold records such as playing in the first European Champions Cup match on 4 September, 1955, as well as becoming the first Balkan and Eastern European football club to reach the European Champions Cup final. Partizan was also the first Yugoslavian club to compete in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.

Partizan made it twelve times to the group stage of a UEFA competition. They reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup, as the Champions League was known then, in 1955/56 and 1963/64 while in 1965/66, they made it to the final, losing 1-2 to Real Madrid. In 1989/90, they made it to the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners Cup. Since then, the furthest they managed to go was the Round of 16 of the UEFA Cup in 2004/05 and once again last season in the Europa Conference League.

They won the Yugoslav championship eleven times, the Serbia and Montenegro championship eight times and the Serbian SuperLiga another eight times. Partizan won the Yugoslav Cup six times, the Serbia and Montenegro Cup three times and the Serbian Cup seven times. They also won the Yugoslav Super Cup once and the Mitropa Cup once.

Partizan have already faced Maltese clubs in UEFA competitions on four occasions. In 1984, they eliminated Rabat Ajax from the UEFA Cup with two 2-0 wins. Six years later, they eliminated Hibernians from the same competition, beating them 3-0 away from home and 2-0 in Belgrade. In 2000, Sliema defeated Partizan 2-1 in the first leg of the UEFA Cup first qualifying round but Partizan qualified to the next stage thanks to a 4-1 win at home. In 2012, Partizan were drawn with Valletta in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, winning 4-1 away from home and 3-1 at home.

Last season, Partizan finished second in the Serbian SuperLiga last summer, two points behind eternal rivals Red Star. They reached the final of the Serbian Cup but lost 1-2 to Red Star.

This summer, they started the domestic season on a positive note, defeating Javor Ivanjica 4-0 away from home and then held Gzira’s opponents in the UEFA Europa Conference League, Radnicki Nis, in a 3-3 draw away from home. Partizan were held in a goalless draw at home by Backa Topola and then lost 1-0 away from home to Novi Pazar. They suffered a 2-1 defeat to AEK Larnaca in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round first leg, only managing a 2-2 draw at home. Coach Ilija Stolic was replaced by Gordan Petric and on Sunday, they bounced back with a 1-0 away from home against Mladost Novi Sad.

The second leg will be played at the National Stadium on Thursday 25, kick-off at 20:00. A place in the group stage of the UEFA Europa Conference League will be at stake. The 2022/23 UEFA Europa Conference League group stage draw will be held on 26 August in Istanbul, Türkiye.