Ħamrun Spartans are one round away from qualifying for the group stages of the UEFA Europa Conference League.
That would be an unthinkable moment for Maltese football fans who are now hooked on the Spartans’ adventure in this competition with the hope of having a home nation representative to cheer for every Thursday.
However, there is a huge hurdle to overcome for Ħamrun Spartans in order to make more history.
Serbian giants FK Partizan are their play-off opponents, as the Black-Whites host Thursday night’s first leg at the Partizan Stadium (kick-off: 9pm).
Partizan, 27-time Serbian champions, dropped into this competition after being eliminated by AEK Larnaca in the UEFA Europa League.
The Ħamrun Spartans’ tie is their last chance of salvaging their European season following last year’s last-16 appearance in the same competition.
“Although they are going through a difficult period, we are aware that FK Partizan remains a very good team,” Juan Corbalan told the Times of Malta.
“We are expecting a very tough game in Serbia, but we are well-prepared for this tie.
“We have been training well and we cannot wait to step on the field of play on Thursday.”
Corbalan, 25, has been a regular fixture for the Spartans in this competition after his excellent second-half performance with Malta against San Marino during June’s UEFA Nations League qualifier at the Serravalle Stadium.
Against Partizan, Corbalan will be playing his 14th European qualifier having already played part in seven games while at Gżira United.
Corbalan was part of the Maroons’ heroic 3-1 win against Hajduk Split, of Croatian, in what was another memorable moment for Maltese football.
For Partizan, this will be their fifth tie against a Maltese club in a UEFA competition.
In their previous eight encounters, they have only lost once – to Sliema Wanderers in the 2000/2001 UEFA Cup.
The Spartans would like to add another positive result for Malta to that list, despite once again having to play in a tricky and hostile environment, similar to the one they faced against Velez Mostar and Levski Sofia.
“We have a huge belief in ourselves and we try to give our best whenever we are on the field,” Corbalan said.
“All these results are a huge collective effort and we believe that we are on the right track to achieve more positive results.”
The Ħamrun Spartans players are expected to be boosted by a large number of supporters who once again have decided to follow their heroes in their away trip, as the charter flight from Malta to Serbia has been announced as sold-out by the club on their social media.
In fact, over 120 Ħamrun Spartans fans have travelled with the team to give their vocal support tonight.
The Spartans’ fanbase, known for its passionate support, have been truly the 12th man for the Maltese club and Corbalan heaped praise on the contribution they have given them throughout all games so far.
“I cannot thank enough our supporters,” Corbalan said.
“They have been amazing and they have been of huge support in both home and away games for us.”
Partizan are heading into this match far from in a good run of form and last week’s 1-0 win at Mladost was only their second in the Super Liga this season.
It will not be easy against Ħamrun – FK Partizan coach
Coach Gordan Petric is certainly not underestimating the threat posed by Ħamrun Spartans.
Partizan Belgrade coach Petric is certainly not underestimating the threat posed by Ħamrun Spartans and said that his players will have to roll up their sleeves when facing what he described as an awkward team.
“We are approaching the match with maximum concentration,” Petric said.
“Yesterday we made a small analysis of our opponents and we will have another one today. The players are aware that it’s not going to be an easy match.
“Our team is formed by professional players and they know that they have to take care of who they are playing against.
“Ħamrun Spartans is not a team whose players are from Malta.
“The majority of the team is made up of foreign players who have already played six matches in Europe this season so they will be tough.
“I watched all their matches in Europe. Maybe they were a bit lucky against Levski Sofia, but they are an extremely difficult team to face and we have to do our homework well tomorrow if we are to reach the required level to win.”
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