Maltese football clubs in Europe vie for history-making qualification

Gzira were off to a dreamy start in Austria as the Third Qualifying Round of the UEFA Conference League gets underway with Maltese football clubs hoping to make history • Hibs and Hamrun in action tonight

Gżira, playing in their traditional maroon shirts, held Austrian side Wolfsberger to a goalless draw at the Worthersee Stadion (Photo: Gżira Utd/Facebook)
Gżira, playing in their traditional maroon shirts, held Austrian side Wolfsberger to a goalless draw at the Worthersee Stadion (Photo: Gżira Utd/Facebook)

It was a dreamy night in Austria for Gżira United on Wednesday when they managed to hold Wolfsberger AC to a goalless draw at the Wörthersee Stadion.

This was the first leg of the Third Qualifying Round of the UEFA Conference League and the return leg will be played in Malta on 9 August.

But Gżira’s feat takes on bigger proportions considering the disparity in rankings between the two clubs.

Wolfsberger is ranked 123 in UEFA’s club rankings and is among Austria’s top four clubs. On the opposite end, Gżira is ranked 289, the third highest Maltese football club.

The wide gulf separating the two teams in UEFA’s rankings was evident in the match statistics.

The Austrian side enjoyed the lion’s share of ball possession – 72% versus Gżira’s 28%. Wolfsberger had 20 shots, seven of which were on target, against Gżira’s three shots, of which only one was on target. The Austrian team had 11 corners against Gżira’s two and a pass accuracy of 80% against Gżira’s 49%.

But despite enjoying superiority on the pitch, Wolfsberger failed to find the net and at the end of the 90 minutes that is the only statistic that counts.

Gżira’s defensive set up saw them stave off the Austrian team, leaving everything open for the return match in Malta and keeping their hopes of qualifying to the next round alive.

Hibs and Hamrun in action

However, if rankings are anything to go on – the Gżira match suggests that they may not be an accurate measure of success – the two other Maltese teams playing in the third qualifying round of the Conference League are better-placed to qualify.

This evening Malta champions Hibernians play away against Latvian side RFS. Hibs are ranked 228 on UEFA’s club rankings, making them the top-ranked Maltese club.

Their adversary is ranked 285, which would put them at par with Gżira.

At face value, Hibs start the game at Daugava Stadium in Riga as favourites but the Paolites will take nothing for granted after last year’s bitter experience against another Latvian side, FC Riga.

Hibs won the away match 1-0 but lost the home game 2-1 amid controversial decisions by the referee and playing most of the match with 10 men. Eventually, Hibs were eliminated in extra time.

In the other match of tonight, Hamrun Spartans face Bulgarian side Levski Sofia, ranked 294 on UEFA’s club list. Although Hamrun are not listed in UEFA’s rankings, their opponents appear to be the worst ranked from all three adversaries of Maltese clubs.

If Levski Sofia’s ranking is anything to go by, Hamrun could give them a good run for their money and hope for qualification to the next round of the Conference League. After eliminating Bosnian side Velez Mostar in style, the Spartans will give it their all to progress to the next round.

History was already made when three Maltese clubs reached the Third Qualifying Round – this has been the first time that more than one Maltese football team has reached this round.

Going beyond the current round would set a new record for any Maltese football team and put them one step away from reaching the group stages.

UEFA Club Rankings

Rankings according to club coefficient based on season 2021/2022

Rank      Team

123         Wolfsberger AC

228         Hibernians

285         RFS

289         Gżira

294          Levski Sofia

Not ranked: Hamrun

UEFA Conference League Match schedule

Third Qualifying Round – First Leg

Wolfsberger AC vs Gżira United = 0-0

RFS vs Hibernians = Thursday, 4 August at 6pm @ Daugava Stadium

Hamrun vs Levski Sofia = Thursday, 4 August at 7:30pm @ Ta’ Qali Stadium

Third Qualifying Round – Second Leg

Gżira United vs Wolfsberger AC = Tuesday, 9 August at 6pm @ Ta’ Qali Stadium

Hibernians vs RFS = Thursday, 11 August at 8pm @ Centenary Stadium

Levski Sofia vs Hamrun = Thursday, 11 August at 8pm @ Georgi Asparuhov Stadium