Birkirkara FC are on the brink of Maltese football history after a 1-0 first-leg win against MŠK Žilina, with Nikola Vukanac and Paul Zammit telling UEFA.com that self-belief was the key.
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As if Birkirkara FC were not in cheery enough mood after their third Maltese title last season, on Tuesday night they produced one of the finest European results the Mediterranean island has known.
A week ago at the Centenary Stadium, Birkirkara booked a second qualifying round place with a 4-3 victory over Andorra's FC Santa Coloma to complete a 7-3 aggregate win. Now they have given themselves every chance of becoming the first Maltese side to advance through more than one two-legged tie in the same competition after beating Slovakian champions MŠK Žilina 1-0 at the same venue. Nikola Vukanac's first-minute goal proved decisive and the defender believes success in next Wednesday's return game is possible.
"You have to believe in what you want to achieve," he told UEFA.com. "Believing is my philosophy. That is why I believe we can make it in the return match in Zilina. MSK Žilina are a more famous club than we are, but if we concentrate as we did last night I do not see why we cannot progress to the next round of this massive UEFA Champions League competition. Anything can happen in football."
Coach Paul Zammit, who on his previous appearance in this competition two years ago saw his Valletta FC team narrowly defeated in both first qualifying round matches against another Slovakian side, FC Artmedia Petržalka, explained how the Stripes had achieved their triumph. "I knew the strength of our opponents," he said, "but my philosophy has always been that it is useless to keep repeating that we Maltese come from a small country – you just have to pull yourself together in the most professional manner and see what you can achieve. My team showed all this against Žilina. It was a show of discipline and a massive collective effort. For this I thank all my players and must say how proud I am having them around."
Zammit's men managed to win despite the absence of sick defender Thomas Paris, unavailable forward Rowen Muscat and fellow striker Trevor Cilia, who fractured a wrist against Santa Coloma. Turning his attentions to the second leg, Zammit added: "Everyone knows the uphill task we now face in Zilina. It will be tough, but the belief I have seen in my players makes me confident of another good showing in Slovakia."