With Sliema Wanderers FC taking on Ferencvárosi TC in the UEFA Europa League, and Birkirkara FC meeting Diósgyőri VTK, footballing relations between Malta and Hungary are set to get much closer.
The 12 UEFA club competition meetings between sides from these nations have produced ten Hungarian wins and only one for Malta – Floriana FC's 1-0 home success against Ferencváros in the first leg of a 1972/73 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup tie – but there have been no encounters since 2003.
Since then, as Maltese fans will remember only too well, Malta have recorded a notable Hungarian coup, prevailing 2-1 at home against the Magyars in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying to end a 13-year wait for a competitive victory.
Budapest titans Ferencváros recorded a win and that notable defeat on their previous two trips to Malta, but can expect a tough ride from Sliema, whose Italian midfielder Paltemio Barbetti is looking forward to taking on a side with a famous past. "Come what may, it will be a memorable experience for all of us to meet such an illustrious opponent," the 24-year-old said. "Of course, playing at the Ferenc Puskás Stadium in Budapest before a bumper crowd will be an experience to treasure."
Barbetti is part of a significant Italian contingent at Sliema, along with defender Stefano Biancardi, Andrea Scozzese, and coach Alfonso Greco, but perhaps their biggest signing of the summer has been Malta captain Michael Mifsud. The striker has returned for a third spell at the club, where he will be paired with Stanley Ohawuchi, who scored 21 league goals last season. "I am looking forward to Tuesday," said the Nigerian, 24. "We are all focused and have been training to bits for the match."
Last season's Maltese Premier League runners-up Birkirkara, meanwhile, will head for Hungary next week for the first leg of their meeting with Diósgyőr. It has been a busy summer for the Stripes, whose new arrivals include Spanish goalkeeper Adrián Murcia, Brazilian strikers Rafael Ledesma and Eliandro, as well as local talents Edmond Agius and Leighton Grech. A training camp overseas has set the club up for their Hungarian adventure – though it is something of a trip into the unknown.
"To be honest I do not know much about our opponents, but Hungarian football has always been very solid," captain Gareth Sciberras told UEFA.com. "I do believe that our squad , especially with the new foreign signings for the coming season, will be as competitive as can be. I also would like to mention that we have just returned from a training camp in France, from which I am sure the entire squad will benefit immensely for our forthcoming commitments."
Diósgyőr, incidentally, can call on some Maltese experience since they beat Sliema 2-0 at home and 3-2 in Malta in the 1998 UEFA Intertoto Cup. However, as Malta's EURO success of 11 October 2006 demonstrates, the island nation can be full of surprises.
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