UEFA Europa Conference League: Balzan paired with NK Domzale, Birkirkara with NK Maribor and Gzira with Glentoran

Balzan were paired with NK Domzale of Slovenia, Birkirkara with NK Maribor of Slovenia and Gzira United with Glentoran FC of Northern Ireland in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League.

The 2023/24 UEFA Europa Conference League first qualifying round draw was held on Tuesday at the House of European football in Nyon, Switzerland.

Both Domzale and Maribor are familiar faces. Domzale had played against Balzan in 2019/20 while Maribor played against Birkirkara in 2013/14 after playing against Hamrun Spartans in 1992/93.

Sixty two teams entered the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League. The 62 teams are divided into five groups of 10 teams and one group of 12 teams.

First legs will be played on July 13 with the return legs scheduled for July 20. Balzan and Gzira are due to play the first leg at home

The 31 winners advance to the second qualifying round (Main Path).

Nogometni klub Domžale are based in the town of Domžale. They won the Slovenian PrvaLiga twice, the Slovenian Cup twice and the Slovenian Super Cup twice.

Their best run in Europe was in 2017/18 when they reached the play-off round, losing out to Marseille. In the UEFA Europa League 2019/20, they eliminated Balzan, beating them 4-3 at the Centenary Stadium and 1-0 at home.

Last season, they placed fourth in the league with 52 points, twenty one behind champions Olimpija Ljubljana, fifteen behind Celje and ten behind Maribor.

Nogometni klub Maribor are based in Maribor, Slovenia. They have won a record 16 Slovenian PrvaLiga titles, 9 Slovenian Cups and 4 Slovenian Super Cups.

They have been participating in European football on a regular basis since their maiden participation in 1992/93 when they eliminated Hamrun Spartans thanks to a 4-0 win at home and a 2-1 defeat at Ta’ Qali. They reached the group stage of the UEFA Champions League in 1999/2000 and the group stage of the UEFA Europa League in 2011/12 and 2013/14. In the latter season, they had eliminated Birkirkara in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League after a goalless draw in Malta and a 2-0 win in Maribor but were transferred to the UEFA Europa League after being eliminated from the play-offs.

In 2014/15, they made it to the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, a feat they repeated in 2017/18.

Last season, they placed third in the league behind champions Olimpija Ljubljana and runners-up Celje.

Glentoran Football Club is a professional football club, based in East Belfast. The club was founded in 1882 and have since won more than 130 major honours, making them one of the most successful football clubs in the world. This includes 23 championships, 23 Irish Cups, 7 League Cups and 2 Charity Shields.

Although they have been participating in European football since 1962/63 and reached the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners Cup in 1973/74, in recent years, they never went beyond the second qualifying round.

Last season, Glentoran placed third in the league, nine points behind champions Larne and three behind runners-up Linfield.

First qualifying round draw

Group 1

Sutjeska (MNE) vs Cosmos (SMR)
Balzan (MLT) vs Domžale (SVN)
Vaduz (LIE)
 vs Neman Grodno (BLR)
Ararat-Armenia (ARM)
 vs Egnatia (ALB)
Torpedo Kutaisi (GEO) vs Sarajevo (BIH)

Group 2

Alashkert (ARM) vs Arsenal Tivat (MNE)
Željezničar (BIH) vs Dinamo Minsk (BLR)
La Fiorita (SMR)
 vs Zimbru Chisinau (MDA)
Maribor (SVN)
 vs Birkirkara (MLT)
Tirana (ALB) vs Dinamo Batumi (GEO)

Group 3

Dundalk (IRL) vs Magpies (GIB)
Víkingur (FRO) vs Inter Escaldes (AND)
Progrès Niederkorn (LUX)
 vs Gjilani (KOS)
Linfield (NIR)
 vs Vllaznia (ALB)
KA (ISL) vs Connah’s Quay Nomads (WAL)

Group 4

Shkëndija (MKD) vs Haverfordwest (WAL)
Haka (FIN) vs Crusaders (NIR)
 vs Derry City (IRL)
Riga (LVA)
 vs Víkingur Reykjavík (ISL)
Žilina (SVK) vs Levadia Tallinn (EST)

Group 5

Pyunik (ARM) vs Narva Trans (EST)
Panevezys (LTU) vs Milsami (MDA)
Tobol Kostanay (KAZ)
 vs Honka Espoo (FIN)
Dunajská Streda (SVK)
 vs Dila Gori (GEO)
Makedonija (MKD) vs RFS (LVA)

Group 6

Dukagjini (KOS) vs Europa (GIB)
Penybont (WAL) vs FC Santa Coloma (AND)
Hegelmann Litauen (LTU) vs Shkupi (MKD)
Diddeleng (LUX) 
vs St Patrick’s (IRL)
B36 (FRO) vs Paide (EST)
Gżira United (MLT) vs Glentoran (NIR)