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Having taken the Maltese Premier League by storm last term, Rowen Muscat is planning to avoid second-season syndrome – starting with Birkirkara FC's meeting with FC Santa Coloma as the UEFA Champions League gets under way this week with two first qualifying round ties.
Knocking on the door at the start of 2009/10, Under-21 international Muscat was a fixture of Birkirkara's starting XI by December, playing 21 games in the course of their league triumph. "Last season was definitely my best so far," said the 19-year-old. "The big challenge now is keeping that level of form going."
There may be an early indication on Tuesday as his side travel to Andorra to take on titleholders Santa Coloma in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round. "I am already excited to be taking part in European football's biggest club competition," said Muscat. "I'm confident Birkirkara FC can make it to the second qualifying round."
Slovakia's MŠK Žilina await the winners of the tie, which concludes in Malta on 6 July, and coach Paul Zammit fully expects it to "go to the wire". He also believes there is little to choose between SP Tre Fiori and Montenegro's European debutants FK Rudar Pljevlja in the other first qualifying round match-up which starts on Wednesday.
Sammarinese side Tre Fiori are still smarting after being edged out by Andorra's UE Sant Julià on spot kicks 12 months ago. "Penalties are always a lottery," said 39-year-old striker Sossio Aruta. "If penalties are needed, I hope this time luck will be on Tre Fiori's side."
With a meeting with Bulgarian champions PFC Litex Lovech the reward, there is plenty of incentive – not that Aruta needs it. "I have only heard the UEFA Champions League anthem on TV," he told UEFA.com. "To think I will be able to listen to that song on the pitch ahead of a game is a great feeling."
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