Birkirkara beat Hearts in Edinburgh on Thursday to become the first Maltese club to make it to a third qualifying round; UEFA.com's Domenic Aquilina celebrates the island's biggest club successes.
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Birkirkara have made another massive breakthrough for Maltese football by eliminating Heart of Midlothian in the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round. An incredible result, but not the first big achievement for the island's clubs.
The Edinburgh marvel
Birkirkara 0-0 Hearts
Hearts 1-2 Birkirkara (agg: 1-2)
2016/17 UEFA Europa League second qualifying round
Birkirkara ousted Armenian club Ulisses in last season's first qualifying round, and took West Ham to a shoot-out in the subsequent tie, but their success in Edinburgh was something else, opening the way to the third qualifying round – a first for a Maltese team. Following a 0-0 home draw, Christian Bubalovic and Edward Herrera struck against the run of play in Scotland, with Conor Sammon's reply failing to spark a Hearts revival. Fireworks in 'ir rahal' (the village, the local nickname for Birkirkara) greeted Dražen Besek's side's triumph. "We have done Birkirkara and Malta proud," defender Joseph Zerafa told UEFA.com. "We have made history."
The first Maltese side to feature in Europe's top club competition, Hibernians went down 7-1 on aggregate to Swiss outfit Servette in the 1961/62 competition. Five years on, they avoided defeat in Europe for the first time in memorable fashion. Having crashed 4-0 to Sir Matt Busby's soon-to-be European champions at Old Trafford, they amazingly held a team containing George Best, Bobby Charlton, Brian Kidd and Denis Law at the old Empire Stadium in front of 23,000 fans. They might even have won it had Alex Stepney not saved from Frans Scerri.
The first two-legged success
Rumelange 2-1 Sliema Wanderers
Sliema Wanderers 1-0 Rumelange (agg: 2-2, Sliema win on away goals)
1968/69 European Cup Winners' Cup first round
Sliema made a breakthrough of sorts by beating Panathinaikos in the second leg of a 1965/66 European Cup preliminary round tie – to little avail, though, as they had succumbed 4-1 in the first leg. Luxembourg's Rumelange, though, were to become the first side to lose a two-legged European tie to Maltese opponents, Franz Falzon scoring the return-leg winner at the Empire Stadium after registering what proved a priceless away goal in the first fixture. Danish representatives Randers, however, were more resilient in the next round, thrashing the Blues 8-0 on aggregate.
A notable near miss
Dinamo Tirana 1-0 Hamrun Spartans
Hamrun Spartans 0-0 Dinamo Tirana (agg: 0-1)
1985/86 UEFA Cup first round
Hamrun Spartans were the pride of Malta in the 1980s, with ambitious chairman Victor Tedesco – after whom their stadium is now named – helping steer them to three domestic titles and five Maltese Cups. Having overcome Northern Ireland's Ballymena over two legs in the previous season's European Cup Winners' Cup first round – yielding to Dinamo Moskva at the next hurdle – Danny McLennan's Hamrun had cause for optimism after coming away from the first leg of this UEFA Cup tie in Albania with a narrow reverse, yet the goals would not come in Malta.
The minnows were transformed into giants for this extraordinary tie, with Andorran champions Lusitans shredded in Malta, Michael Mifsud scoring four times, with two from Jhonnattann, and one each for Jonathan Caruana and Edmund Agius. "Scoring four goals in such a competition is special," Mifsud told UEFA.com. "But credit to the team – we were determined to do well from the start and it turned out to be a splendid win." Jhonnattann struck again as Valletta completed the most emphatic European victory in Maltese history.