The heroics of Maltese clubs in European football have been extended to the women’s game where Birkirkara wrote a historic page in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
Two second-half goals from Raina Giusti and Charlene Zammit helped Birkirkara cancel a one-goal deficit and beat Glentoran 2-1 for Malta’s first ever win in this competition.
In the previous participations, only on two occasions did a Maltese club managed to secure a positive result – both draws.
In the 2015/2016 edition, Hibernians had scored a last-gasp equaliser to salvage a 3-3 draw against KI Klaksvik of the Faroe Islands.
On that day, one of Hibernians’ scorers was also Zammit during her successful spell at the Paolites. The highly experienced defender has now played 13 games in this competition.
Then, in the 2018/2019 campaign, it was Birkirkara who repeated Hibernians’ feat with a 2-2 draw against Cardiff Met Ladies, representing Wales.
Giusti, who scored Birkirkara’s first goal against Glentoran, had also found the opener for the Stripes against the Welsh side.
The Birkirkara player is now the all-time Maltese scorer with a Maltese club in this competition with three goals in 14 appearances.
In this season’s edition, Birkirkara were coached by Jose Borg in his first coaching experience in the Women’s Champions League.
In the eve of this game, he was upbeat about his team’s chances against Glentoran despite the opening defeat at the hands of SFK Sarajevo, on Thursday.
Birkirkara had no chance of progressing in this competition but placing third would suggest that despite the limited resources which the local women’s game has, the Maltese female players are still able to compete on this stage.
“We conceded an avoidable goal once again but at half-time I urged the girls to keep believing,” coach Borg told the Times of Malta.
“I changed something tactically and I deployed Raina Giusti upfront to inject more pace in the team.
“The change paid dividends and the result reflects the winning mentality that this team has – a well-deserved victory for Birkirkara.”
In this year’s edition, Birkirkara had to play Bosnia-Herzegovina champions SFK Sarajevo and after succumbing to a 4-0 defeat, they contended the third place with Glentoran.
Nine-time Northern Ireland champions, Glentoran is a highly-experienced side at international level.
Three of their midfielders were regular fixtures with their country during the recent UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 – Nadene Caldwell, Chloe McCarron and Joely Andrews.
From a physical aspect, they were also in a better position having already played nine league games as they currently sit second behind Cliftonville.
Back in their home country, Glentoran is advocating to turn the women’s game professionally.
They were set to hand the first professional contract to captain Jessica Foy – who played against Birkirkara – but their project is currently shelved after failing to receive support from the rest of the women’s league clubs as they have no appetite for turning professional.
“Glentoran is a very good team and I was impressed by them against Olimpija Cluj in the semi-final,” Borg explained.
“They have international players who were also playing in the recent UEFA Women’s Euro championship as well.
“On the other hand though, I think we were believed more than Glentoran and I think that was our advantage in this game.”
Birkirkara and Glentoran had already crossed swords back in the 2012/2013 edition with the Northern Ireland side winning 3-1.
Kelly Bailie, scorer for Glentoran in Sunday’s game, was on the score sheet a decade ago too.
Even back then, Birkirkara were obtaining respectable sides at international level and their recent strong showings against Olimpija Cluj and Slovan Bratislava were a promise of better things to come.
At last, the winless streak has been brought to a halt and coach Borg feels that now it is time to start aiming for the next step.
“The result is amazing not only for Birkirkara but also for Maltese football,” Borg added.
“This barrier had to be overcome and now we can believe even more to continue obtaining positive results in this competition.
“As a club, we won’t want to stop here as we continue to push our benchmark even higher.”