Malta's Valletta FC are getting used to being big fish among the minnows in the first qualifying rounds, but as they take on SP La Fiorita again, they are hoping to make the next step up.
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Valletta FC have one foot in the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round as they go into the home leg of their tie against SP La Fiorita holding a 3-0 lead.
Two goals from Denni – one a penalty – and a strike from Ian Zammit secured a promising result in Serravalle last week and a tie against Belarus's FC Minsk looks to be within sight for Mark Miller's side. "When you consider that the first leg was our first competitive test, I think that we did really well," captain Ryan Fenech told UEFA.com. "All matches have their own story, but I think we can close this tie out and advance to the next round."
In contrast to the major ins and outs of the previous year, Valletta have taken a more conservative line on transfers this summer. Italian goalkeeper Pietro Marino has arrived from Serie B outfit Reggina Calcio, while Gambian central midfielder Barry Hamza and Nigerian striker Aud-Gustine James Obaje have also been brought in, but more significant may be Miller's decision to recall Under-21 international defender Yessous Camilleri, and striker Zammit, both of whom were loaned out to domestic rivals last season. This suggests a concerted effort to give homegrown talent a chance.
While the departure of Malta captain Michael Mifsud, released by mutual consent, is a blow, Valletta won the traditional pre-season Euro Cup competition in their own country, and Fenech is feeling confident. "An advantage for us this season is that basically we have kept our squad the same as last season with the exception of a few foreign arrivals," the 27-year-old midfielder said. "We should challenge for the title again this coming season."
In European terms, Valletta have been here before. One of the most powerful sides to enter the first qualifying rounds of UEFA's club competitions in recent years, they have reached the second qualifying rounds more often than not since 2009/10, but have yet to make it to the next phase – indeed, they have never played more than four games in a single European season. Could this be the year where they make their own small piece of history?