Birkirkara FC will be Malta’s representatives in this season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League as they will launch their qualifying campaign with a stern test against Scottish giants Glasgow City FC, this morning (kick-off: 11am).
The 2021-22 edition will see a first qualifying round with Birkirkara pitted in Group 2 alongside today’s opponents, BIIK, of Kazakhstan and Slovakia’s Slovan Bratislava.
After today’s matches, there will be a final to determine the one qualifier from this group into the next round. A ranking match for the third place will be also held.
15 teams from round 1 will make into the second round, which precedes the newly-formed group stage format of this competition.
Last season, Birkirkara almost upset Romania’s Olimpija Cluj when they were leading following an Alishia Sultana goal in the first half. However, two late goals condemned the Stripes to an early exit in the competition.
Birkirkara’s best result remains in the 2018-19 competition when they collected their first point after a 2-2 draw with Cardiff Met of Wales.
“Our objective is to showcase ourselves and make sure we put everything we know on the playing field,” Birkirkara coach Melania Bajada told the Times of Malta.
The Birkirkara coach will have new signings Charlene Zammit, Ruth Steer Chetham and Flavia Fartaria included in her squad.
All three players have Champions League experience with Steer Chetham being the first player to ever score for a Maltese club in this European competition when she netted for the Stripes in the 2007-08 edition, in a game against Slovenia’s Novo Mesto.
On the other hand, defender Zammit was part of the Hibernians’ squad that made history after becoming the first Maltese club to record at least a point in Europe, following a dramatic 3-3 draw with KI of the Faroe Islands.
Fartaria, on her part, played for Portugal’s Ouriense in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 editions.
The three players have already debuted for Birkirkara having faced Juventus in one of their pre-season friendlies. Despite the heavy loss endured in Italy, coach Bajada remains upbeat about the experience that the players gained from that trip.
“To lose with a heavy score is not easy to endure,” she explained.
“We had to make sure the players remained with a high morale after that game but I know that at the same time the players and the technical staff learned a lot from the experience as we strive to keep on improving as well.”
For coach Bajada herself, this is another opportunity to measure herself at the highest level of club football.
“As a coach, I feel that these games help me as they motivate me to think and plan more while trying to be innovative when facing such teams,” Bajada explained.
“At the same time, facing these kind of teams helps me to learn more from their playing style.
“At the end of the day, we participate in this competition to keep playing against the best, to learn and ultimately upgrade our level.”
A record 72 teams from 50 different associations will be taking part in this year’s edition with Juventus’s Allianz Stadium hosting the final on May 22.
Birkirkara’s rivals in Group 2 are all experienced teams in this competition, in particular Glasgow and BIIK who have both managed to qualify to the proper competition on more than one occasion.
Glasgow are at the back of their 14th domestic title in a row, fending off the challenge of newcomers Celtic and Rangers. Last Sunday, they secured their passage into the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup as well.
The Scottish club boast numerous international players in their squad including South Africa legend Janine van Wyk and Priscila Chincilla, Costa Rica’s 20-year-old sensation.
Glasgow are a familiar name to Maltese women’s football after Swieqi United had embarked on a historic project with the Scottish giants in the interest of promoting and help growing the women’s game, last year.
This will be the third time that Glasgow will face a Maltese side at this stage of the competition after meeting Mosta in 2011 and Birkirkara two years’ later.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s BIIK have reached the last 16 of the competition on three occasions, including last season when they were eliminated by semi-finalists Bayern Munich.
On the other hand, Slovan Bratislava played 10 games in four campaigns in this competition, winning four of them.