14th July, Corradino Stadium. All set for the tough European tie of the Maltese champions Hibernians FC. Opponent? Maccabi Tel-Aviv, 20 times champions of Israel and a veteran in these qualifying matches. The Maltese club was seen as a pushover and no one could ever see them beating the Israelite club but Hibernians were focused and prepared to make the impossible possible.
Full of experienced players such as the likes of Tal Ben-Haim, a former Chelsea, West Ham and Manchester City player amongst others and Eran Zahavi who played with Palermo just a couple of seasons ago, Maccabi were considered one of the powerhouses in this draw of the 2nd qualifying round together with Scots champions Celtic FC. With Jordi Cruyff, son of the legendary Johann, in the role of Director of Football and Slavisa Jokanovic who promoted Watford to the Premier just a couple of months ago as the coach, The Yellows are striving towards a spot in the group stage.
On the other hand, Hibernians’s main aim is to play their match, get a positive result and make their fans proud of them. No one thought that deep down, Branko Nisevic, mastermind of Hibernians’ domestic triumph last season was preparing his team to achieve the unthinkable, or rather, overcoming the foreign side. A positive result in these qualifying matches is always welcomed by the Maltese clubs and following Birkirkara’s qualification in the Europa League, a win from The Paolites would keep Malta’s colours well represented amongst the UEFA clubs, apart from earning precious points in the club coefficient.
This was Hibernians’s 9th appearance in this competition, their 3rd since it was renamed as the UEFA Champions League. They already managed to progress to the next round in the 2002/2003 campaign when after eliminating Shelbourne from Ireland, they were beaten by Portuguese strong side Boavista. After tasting a European win over a strong side, captain Andrew Cohen and his team-mates will be more than prepared to go along with their cup run and show that the UEFA Champions League is not only for the big boys.