FK Partizani test for Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk face a difficult test on Thursday as they face FK Partizani Tirana of Albania in the first leg of the first qualifying round of the UEFA Conference League at the Elbasan Arena in Elbasan, kick-off at 20:00.

The Southseasiders are making a return to European football after an absence of sixteen years thanks to a fourth-place finish in the BOV Premier League last season.

Led once again by Winston Muscat as coach, Marsaxlokk have been strengthened with the signing of six foreign players, namely defenders Jefferson de Jesus Santos and Lucas Emmanuel Lopez Dessypris, midfielder Guttiner Heider Fernando Costa Tenorio and forwards Alex De Aguiar Gomes, Igor Leandro Goularte Do Nascimento and Patrick Carvalho Nonato.

On the other hand, Fabricio Brener, Weder Soares da Silva, Diego Pires dall’ Oca, Fernandinho, Samuel Boakye, Sami El Anabi, Anthony Obonogwu and Sunday Akinbule were not retained or moved elsewhere while Gary Camilleri moved back to Balzan after a spell on loan with the club.

In view of these clashes with FK Partizani, Marsaxlokk went abroad for a training camp where they had the opportunity to play two friendly matches – the first against Romanian top division side Otelul Galati, losing 1-4 and then against newly-promoted Serbian top division side Jedinstvo Ub, winning 1-0.

Marsaxlokk’s opponents, Futboll Klub Partizani are based in Tirana. The club, who was historically affiliated to the Albanian army, first competed in an official competition in 1947 where they were crowned the champions of Albania in their debut season as well as the following two seasons. In total, the club won the championship 17 times and the Albanian Cup 15 times. They are also the only Albanian club side to have won an international football competition through their 1970 Balkans Cup campaign in which they beat Bulgarian side Beroe Stara Zagora in the final.

Since their first ever participation in UEFA club competitions, Partizani managed to reach the play-off stage twice. In 2016, they eliminated Ferencvaros on penalties in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League but lost to Red Bull Salzburg in the third round and in the play-off stage of the UEFA Europa League, they were eliminated by FK Krasnodar of Russia.

Last season, they reached the play-off stage of the UEFA Europa Conference League. They entered the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round but were eliminated by BATE Borisov of Belarus. In the UEFA Europa Conference League, they eliminated Atletic Club d’ Escaldes of Andorra and Valmiera of Latvia but were eliminated by Astana of Kazakhstan in the play-off round.

Last season, Partizani placed joint-first in the regular season together with Egnatia although they had an inferior record in the direct encounters. In the final four round, they defeated Skenderbeu in the semi-finals and lost 0-1 to champions Egnatia to settle for the runner-up spot.

This will be the second time, Partizani will be playing against a Maltese club, having eliminated Birkirkara from the UEFA Cup first qualifying round in 2004 with a 5-4 aggregate score. In the seven times, Maltese and Albanian clubs were drawn together, the latter have always prevailed.

A clash with FC Iberia 1999 Tbilisi of Georgia awaits the winner of this two-legged tie between Marsaxlokk and Partizani.

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