Birkirkara target second qualifying round spot as they host NK Maribor

Following a 1-1 draw away from home, Birkirkara host NK Maribor in the second leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League first qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 17:00.

The positive result obtained away from home leaves wide open chances of reaching the next stage of the competition where the winner would be meeting FC Differdange 03 of Luxembourg.

The Stripes had a fine performance at the Stadion Ljudski vrt, taking the lead courtesy of Paul Mbong just past the half hour but a controversial penalty mid-way through the second half restored equilibrium for the hosts.

Birkirkara coach Giovanni Tedesco admitted that the clash with Maribor will be a difficult game.

“This will be a difficult game against a strong team. We are looking forward for this game. We will play our game and we will be doing our best. We need to show the same attitude like we showed in Slovenia.”

Tedesco said he was expecting the same type of game from Maribor.

“They are a team who aims at playing in the group stage. They will be all out to impose their game in order to qualify for the next round. They will definitely be aggressive and determined to take what they need from this game. We are well aware of this and we will be prepared for what Maribor have in store for us,” added the Birkirkara coach.

Maribor 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.

Enrico Pepe agreed that it would be a difficult game but if the team showed the same attitude, Birkirkara would have their chances of reaching the next stage.

“We have a difficult against a good team with very good players. If we go on the pitch with the same attitude, same hunger and same spirit of last week, we can do well and would have a fifty percent chance of making it. We will definitely give our hundred per cent to try to win this game.”

“When playing at home, I prefer my teams to be more offensive. In the way we played in Maribor, we were keeping also in mind the one hundred and eighty minutes. To be honest, they did put us under pressure but our goalkeeper was hardly tested. As expected, we did suffer pressure from their side but now at home, it is up to us to try to impose ourselves. However, in football, you could plan in one way but everything could change in a few seconds.”

Tedesco said he will have the full squad his disposal but is yet to make his final decision on the starting line-up for Thursday’s game.

When asked whether the early afternoon kick-off will affect the teams, Tedesco said “The heat will be there for the two teams. In the first leg, we played at 21:00, under the rain. Maybe the climate suited Maribor more. Now, this temperature suits us a bit more.”

“But at the end there will be twenty two players fighting for the ball despite the difficulties related to the high temperature. It is something which will affect both teams.”

On Thursday, Birkirkara will be seeking their sixth qualification to a second round after eliminating Lokomotiv Tbilisi in 2001, FC Santa Coloma in 2010, Ulisses Yerevan in 2015, Siroki Brijeg and Hearts in 2016 and La Fiorita in 2021.