Finally, the third qualifying round hurdle has been overcome as Ħamrun Spartans have become the first ever Maltese representative to qualify to the play-off round of a UEFA club competition.
An incredible achievement for Maltese football which had already witnessed history with three local clubs making it to the third qualifying round in the UEFA Europa Conference League.
Ħamrun’s incredible journey in Europe will now see them take on Serbia’s giants, FK Partizan. 27-time domestic champions who made it as far as the last 16 in the first edition of the Conference League before being eliminated by eventual finalists Feyenoord.
“This qualification has showed that Malta has its own talents and that we can compete against some of the best clubs in Europe,” Matthew Guillaumier told the Times of Malta.
“I am proud of having helped the team to write history.
“We can now celebrate a bit before we shift our focus to the next game where will be facing a top team like Partizan.”
Unfortunately for Gżira United and Hibernians, they stumbled in the second leg after their strong showings in the first legs against Austria’s Wolfsberger AC and FK RFS of Latvia.
For Ħamrun, dispatching Levski Sofia seemed an uphill task considering that the Bulgarians are one of the strongest teams in Bulgaria and had eliminated comfortably Greece’s PAOK in the previous round.
Moreover, Levski’s stoppage-time winner in Ta Qali last weekend increased the level of difficulty of the away game in Bulgaria’s capital.
Ħamrun, though, have managed to upset the odds just like they did in the previous two rounds when they thrashed Alashkert of Armenia in the second half at the Centenary Stadium and dominated Velez Mostar in front of a hostile environment in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In front of a sold-out Georgi Asparuhov Stadium, Ħamrun were not fazed by Levski’s home crowd.
Branko Nisevic’s side was smart enough to allow Levski have more of the ball while they wait for the right time to catch their opponents on the break.
With the home side failing to capitalise on its possession, Ħamrun knew they could still take something out of this match and Guillaumier’s goal on 78 minutes proved exactly that.
Another brilliant box-entry by the Maltese midfielder which has been a trademark in Ħamrun’s games in this competition so far.
In fact, the former Siena midfielder has already scored three goals in six European games – home against Alashkert, away at Velez Mostar and one of Ħamrun’s goals in Sofia.
“I think this aspect was something I needed to improve on,” the Malta midfielder explained.
“I am pleased with my goal but I am happier to have contributed to this team in difficult conditions – playing in such a hostile environment in front of that crowd and trailing by one goal.
“It was a superb performance indeed.”
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