Hibernians avoided top seeded clubs Sheriff Tiraspol and Qarabag as they were drawn against Ireland’s Shamrock Rovers in the first qualifying round of the 2022/2023 UEFA Champions League.
However, Hibernians’ coach Stefano Sanderra still feels that his team will start as underdogs against the Ireland champions.
“Shamrock Rovers may not the best team to pick in this draw but we can be reasonably happy with how it went,” Sanderra told the Times of Malta.
“They are a decent side but I still believe that we will not start as favourites as at the end of the day they are the champions of Ireland.
Still, it will be a great opportunity for us and we have to make sure to give it our best shot.”
The Maltese champions will play the first-leg on Irish soil on July 5 or July 6 before hosting the second leg in Malta on July 12 and July 13.
For this two-legged tie, Hibernians will have a trio of suspended players together with their coach following the hefty bans that UEFA had slapped on the Maltese champions clan after the controversy that erupted in the return leg of the third qualifying round tie against Riga of Latvia.
Coach Sanderra and defender Andrei Agius have been suspended for five matches, midfielder Bjorn Kristensen will miss four games while Ferdinando Apap is sanctioned for just two games.
To back up for their absentees, the Paolites have already reinforced their backline bringing defenders Lorenzo Fonseca from Sta Lucia and Rodolfo Soares, who returns at the club.
“At the moment, we are passing through a transition in our squad as the club decided to rejuvenate our squad of players,” the Italian tactician explained.
“Maybe we will not be ready 100 per cent for the tie, but I still believe that the players will give everything they have to try and progress.”
This will be the third time that Hibernians will be facing an Irish opponent in European competitions. The Paolites met Dundalk in the 1979/1980 European Cup and Shelbourne in the 2002/2003 Champions League, their first appearance in the new era of this competition.
Shamrock Rovers, on their part, won the Irish League in 2021 and will be facing a Maltese club for the first time. Last season, they were eliminated in the play-offs of the Europa Conference League by Flora Tallinn who had previously saw off Hibernians in the Champions League.
The Hoops had made it to the 2011/2012 Europa League group stages when they faced Rubin Kazan, Tottenham Hotspur and PAOK.
On Wednesday, UEFA will also hold the second qualifying round draws of both competitions which will also be of interest for the Maltese teams as well.
Hibernians will be representing Malta in the Champions League having won the Maltese title in the 2021-22 season.