Slovenian tests for Balzan, Birkirkara

Balzan and Birkirkara will be aiming for a good performance and possibly a positive result as they take on NK Domzale and NK Maribor respectively in the first leg of the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League on Thursday.

At the Sportni park Domzale, kick-off at 19:00, Balzan face Domzale while at the Stadion Ljudski vrt in Maribor, Birkirkara face Maribor, kick-off at 21:00.

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.

Although these will be no easy tasks for Balzan and Birkirkara, the two teams were strengthened this summer and both sides could do well.

Balzan, who defeated Hibernians 3-2 on penalties in a play-off for fourth place to take a European spot, secured the services of Serbian goalkeeper Danilo Golovic, central defender Andre Fausto Rodrigues Prates, left back Evandro Gomes, defensive mifielder Tristan Caruana, midfielders Jake Grech and Ryohei Michibuchi and forwards Peter Olawale and Manyluak Aguek. On the other hand, Jonathan Debono, Duvan Torres, Matheus Souza, Bogdan Mladenovic, Bojan Kaljevic and Alex Satariano are no longer with the club.

Four years ago, when the two teams met in the UEFA Europa League, Domzale registered two wins – 4-3 at Ta’ Qali and 1-0 at home but Balzan will be hoping to do better this time in their bid to reach a second round of a UEFA competition for the second time after eliminating Kesla of Azerbaijan with a 5-3 aggregate score in 2018.

Nogometni klub Domžale are based in the town of Domžale, on the outskirts of Ljubljana. 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.

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

The second leg between Balzan and Domzale will be played on Tuesday at the Centenary Stadium, kick-off at 19:30.

The winner of Balzan vs Domzale will be facing the winner of the clash FC Vaduz (LIE) – FC Neman Grodno (BLR). The first leg will be played at home.

Meanwhile Birkirkara also had an intensive transfer campaign.

They signed goalkeeper Marcel Zapytowkski, right back Enmy Pena Beltre, central defender Jovan Pajovic, central midfielder Babacar Tounkara, attacking midfielder Manuel De Filippis together with forwards Maxuell Samurai, Italo Montano, Weverton Gomes and Omar Elouni.

On the other hand, Cain Attard, Diego Pires Dall’Oca, Alex da Paixao Alves, Enzo Cabrera and goalkeeper Giacomo Nava are no longer with the club.

The Stripes are making a return to European football thanks to the success in the Izibet FA Trophy and the runner-up spot in the BOV Premier League after missing out on Europe last season.

Birkirkara’s best run in Europe was in 2016 when they eliminated Siroki Brijeg and Hearts, losing out to Krasnodar in the third round. They had also reached a second round in the UEFA Cup in 2001, eliminating Lokomotiv Tbilisi; 2010 when they defeated FC Santa Coloma in the Champions League; 2015 whey they eliminated Ulisses Yerevan in the Europa League and 2021 when they eliminated La Fiorita in the Europa Conference League.

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 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.

The second leg between Birkirkara and Maribor will be played on Thursday 20 at the Centenary Stadium, kick-off at 17:00.

The winner of the clash between NK Maribor and Birkirkara would be meeting FC Differdange 03 with the first leg being played in Luxembourg.