Hibernians will make their debut appearance in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round on Tuesday evening when they play guests to Estonian champions Flora Tallinn (kick-off: 6pm).
The Paolites are representing Malta in UEFA’s elite club competition following the exclusion of Ħamrun Spartans after their involvement in a match-fixing case in 2013.
Flora Tallinn are a familiar side for Maltese football as the Estonians knocked out Floriana from the Europa League third qualifying round in a tense penalty shoot-out last season.
Hibs coach Stefano Sanderra has described the Estonians as a very tough side, particularly given that they are in far better physical condition than the Paolites, but he promised that his players will battle hard to try and gain a positive result ahead of next week’s second leg.
“Flora Tallinn is a very tough side… much more than what many people are thinking,” Sanderra said.
“They are led by a very young coach and they have a blend of talented players who are very fast on the ball but also very strong from a physical point of view. I was particularly impressed with their forward line so no doubt we need to be very focused throughout the whole 90 minutes.”
Sanderra admitted that his team are well behind Flora in terms of physical preparation and that could be a major advantage for their opponents.
“Our team is a bit of a work in progress,” Sanderra said with a smile.
“We have signed some good players in the last few weeks but it’s clear our physical preparation is far from ideal. The team prepared in very hot climate here in Malta and that made it tougher for my players.
“On the other hand, Flora Tallinn are midway through their season and are in great physical shape while we have not played any competitive matches since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But as always, we will battle hard to try and get a good result. We will have to use all our experience and tactical nous to try and make up for what we are lagging in terms of physical condition.”
This evening, Sanderra will be without goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona who picked up an injury and is expected to be replaced by new signing Nicky Vella. Wilfried Domoraud, who joined the Paolites last weekend, has made the trip to Estonia but is likely to start on the bench.
FIRST QUALIFYING ROUND
PLAYING ON TUESDAY
Ferencvaros vs Pristhina 18.00
F. Tallinn vs Hibernians 18.00
HJK vs Buducnost 18.00
CFR Cluj vs Borac Banja 19.00
Z. Vilnius vs Linfield 19.00
CS Floa Esch vs Lincoln 19.30
KF Shkendija vs Mura 20.00
Bodo/Glimt vs L. Warsaw 18.00
D. Tbilisi vs Neftchi 18.00
S. Bratislava vs S. Rovers 18.30
Ludogorets vs S. Soligorsk 19.00
M. Haifa vs K. Almaty 19.00
Malmoe vs Riga 19.00
Teuta Durres vs FC Sheriff 19.00
Connah’s Quay vs Alaskhert 20.00
D. Zagreb vs Valur 20.00
Second legs: July 13-14.