For the fourth consecutive season, Birkirkara will be representing Malta in the UEFA Women’s Champions League when they face Romanian champions Olimpija Cluj in Romania, this afternoon (kick-off: 2pm).
Unlike the previous editions, this year’s competition will commence with two single-leg qualification rounds before the round of 32 that takes place later on this year.
UEFA opted for this format due to the coronavirus pandemic that forced them to scrap the traditional group stage qualifiers that usually take place in August.
The coronavirus situation has also put extra responsibility on Birkirkara’s logistical plans heading into this game.
In fact, Birkirkara spent a night in London on Sunday before landing in Romania yesterday afternoon, where they held their final training session before today’s game.
“Due to the coronavirus protocol, UEFA did not allow us to travel before and therefore we had to do spend an overnight at London,” Bajada told The Times of Malta.
“In build-up to this trip, we trained at the MFA Training Grounds before doing our swab tests on Saturday and that will be the only time, we will undergo tests before the game.
“We will be tested again once we return to Malta, following the game.”
Birkirkara have opened their quest for a fifth straight domestic title with three consecutive wins, including two against league rivals Swieqi United 2-0 and Mġarr United 3-0. They have scored 17 goals with goalkeeper Janice Xuereb preserving a clean sheet in all three league matches.
For this trip, coach Bajada can count on the entire squad that has so far collected nine points in the women’s league, including Canadian forward Christabel Oduro.
Oduro, 27, has scored a hat-trick in their 12-0 win over Raiders Għargħur and she will be playing her second Champions League campaign after heir 2016 experience with Israel side Ramat HaSharon.
“Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there were a lot of discussions about how and when our league will restart,” Bajada said.
“Moreover, this virus has also affected the Champions League schedule and this meant that we could not really invest in other signings when everything was still pending.
“Nonetheless, I am happy to give this team its chance to feature in such a competition as we have players who have already played in Europe and others who are still new to it.”
Birkirkara’s best record in this European club competition was achieved in 2018, when the Stripes chalked up their first point in Europe when holding Wales’ Cardiff Met Ladies to a 2-2 draw, in the traditional group stage format.
One of the scorers in that game was Raina Giusti, who is the club’s top scorer so far with five goals and is part of the squad for this Champions League expedition.
This will be the third time that the Stripes face Cluj. The previous two encounters were in 2012 and 2014 with the Romanian winning both ties.
Cluj are currently topping the Romanian championship with 18 poins after six consecutive victories, with 27 goals scored and just two goals conceded.
This will be the eighth time that they will be Romania’s representatives in this competition, with their best result being in 2013 when they reached the round of 16.
For this European campaign, Cluj brought in three new players, goalkeeper Erin Seppi and midfielder Brianna Curtis from the United States and a goalkeeper from France, Cloe Macuiba.
In addition, they also brought in 22-year-old Carolina Tabur, considered as one of the best women players in Moldova.
Cluj’s squad includes 11 players who form part of the Romania national team as well.
BOV WOMEN’S LEAGUE
PLAYING TODAY – 20.30
Mġarr U. vs Swieqi U.
TOMORROW – 20.30
Mosta vs Raiders Għargħur