Maltese champions Birkirkara FC face their Faroese counterparts B36 Tórshavn tonight with a UEFA Champions League tie against Fenerbahçe SK at stake.
Clubs from both nations rarely last long in European competition, but both Birkirkara and B36 will feel they have a great chance to write a famous chapter in their respective histories as they meet over two legs for the right to play the Turkish giants in the second qualifying round. "Playing in the UEFA Champions League is anyone's dream, so we will do our utmost to get a meeting with Fenerbahçe in this prestigious competition," Birkirkara coach Stephen Azzopardi told uefa.com. "The opportunity is there for the taking. But we will respect our opponents from the Faroes."
Birkirkara made a major breakthrough under the 38-year-old coach back in 2004/05, claiming their first European victory, 2-1 against Albania's KF Tirana. Having lost 4-2 in the first leg of the UEFA Cup first qualifying round tie, it was a meaningless win in one sense, but it has given the Stripes hope. The club lifted only their second Maltese title last term and Azzopardi, who earned his UEFA A licence with the help of the Italian Football Federation, said: "Passion for footballing success burns in the hearts of all Birkirkara followers."
After arriving in Malta for the first leg fresh from a 6-0 mauling of arch-rivals HB Tórshavn, B36's biggest concern is burning in the heat of the Mediterranean. "We don't know a lot about Birkirkara, but it is good for us to have a few days before the match to get used to the heat," said midfielder Fróði Benjaminsen. Considered the wealthiest club in Faroese football, B36 rewrote the local record books last season as a 1-1 draw and 2-1 triumph against Icelandic side ÍBV Vestmannyjær in the UEFA Cup first qualifying round made them the first Faroese team to win a two-legged European tie.
"Our squad has changed over the past year and our style of play may be a bit more defensive, but we still feel we have enough quality to do well in Europe," said coach Sigfríður Clementsen. "The results last year made it clear that it is possible for us to make our mark against international competition." Having scored in three of B36's four continental outings in 2005/06 and bagged a hat-trick in the 6-0 defeat of HB - the latter club's heaviest defeat since 1945 - striker Bergur Midjord may be the danger man, although Ivory Coast-born Sylla Amed Davy is their leading marksman this time around.
Meanwhile, B36's defence - featuring experienced former Herfolge BK, Molde FK and Partick Thistle FC goalkeeper Jákup Mikkelsen and stylish Brazilian left-back Alex Santos - will have to deal with a Birkirkara outfit who have made four foreign signings in their quest for European glory. Polish goalkeeper Andrzej Bledzewski, Italian midfielders Guido Gallovich and Angelo Paradiso, and French-Moroccan winger Hatim Sbai have all joined Azzopardi's squad.
If the recruits share their coach's hunger for success, they could yet be headed for Istanbul in two weeks' time. "Passion for football has to burn inside you," said Azzopardi, who always brings his son and daughter on to the pitch to celebrate Birkirkara's biggest victories. "As a child, I used to sleep with a football beside me. You have to persevere to succeed."
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