"Third time is the charm," said KS Laçi captain Erjon Vucaj with his side hoping their third European tie – against NK Rudar Velenje – will conclude with a first continental win.
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After drawing in Slovenia last week, Albania's KF Laçi want their sixth UEFA Europa League first qualifying round game to bring them a first win on Thursday night.
An 89th-minute goal from Nigerian striker Segun Adeniyi earned Laç a 1-1 draw at NK Rudar Velenje last Thursday, and hopes are now high that the club from north-west Albania can finally post a first continental victory in their first UEFA tie at their own Stadiumi Laçi – previous fixtures having been played in Durres and Korce. "We have never won a match and it will be great to get that first win in front of our fans," said coach Stavri Nicaj.
A maiden success would be another significant step up the ladder for the side founded as Industriali Laç in 1960. They debuted in the Albanian Super League in 1991, with their stock rising in more recent years since Nica started his on-off relationship with the club. Under his guidance, they gained promotion as second-tier champions in 2008/09, with a fourth-placed finish the following season teeing Laç up for a European debut in 2010/11 – an 8-2 aggregate loss to Belarus's FC Dnepr Mogilev.
They returned to Europe as first-time Albanian Cup winners in 2013/14 but went down 3-1 over two legs to Luxembourg's F91 Differdange. However, having come third in the table last term, Laç are confident some summer signings will help them break their European duck. Goalkeeper Miroslav Vujadinović, defender Arjan Sheta and midfielder Jetmir Sefa have all swelled Nica's ranks, with the coach saying: "We had a good team, but we had to get better. We have got better and are in a great position to make history."
Optimism is high in a city noted for miracles of a non-footballing nature. The church of Saint Anthony in Lac – known locally as the Kisha e Shna Ndout – is a notable pilgrimage site, where Muslims, Orthodox Christians and even atheists have joined Roman Catholic worshippers since the 12th century, due to its reputation for supernatural cures. Laç are not seeking miracles against Rudar, but lucky numbers augur well. "Third time's the charm," said captain Erjon Vucaj of his side's third European tie.
Like Vucaj, left-back Taulant Sefgjini missed the first leg through suspension and is eager to come back with a bang. "We have worked very hard to get here and there is no better way to finish off Rudar than at home in front of our crowd," he said. Midfielder Valdet Nimani agreed: "There is no better feeling than to play in front of our fans – and it will be even greater if we can celebrate a win with them."