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Birkirkara face Zurich test in women’s Champions League

Birkirkara’s Veronique Mifsud (right) controls the ball against Breznica. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Maltese champions Birkirkara have written another memorable chapter in the history of their club and Maltese women’s football after their win over Breznica in the Champions League, last Wednesday.

For the Stripes, this was their second consecutive victory in UEFA’s elite competition and the first for any Maltese club on home soil.

Hosting this phase of the competition for the first time in a decade added extra pressure on Birkirkara’s shoulders who were looking to replicate last season’s victory over Northern Ireland champions Glentoran.

The 11-time Maltese title winners were the better team throughout the match but when Alishia Sultana was sent off, the momentum swung in favour of Breznica and it looked like Birkirkara’s hopes of progressing had vanished.

Enter new signing Edith Garcia, a diminutive number 10 from Uruguay, whose low drive beat Breznica’s goalkeeper to the delight of the 366 people in attendance at the Centenary Stadium.

“I think the team was well prepared in all aspects, with the physical and mental aspect playing a big part in this victory,” Borg told the Times of Malta.

Borg has now become the first coach to win two matches in this competition with a Maltese club.

“The winning mentality was still there, even when we went a player down as we believed that our substitutes could still be our game changers,” Borg said.

Arianna Del Moral, like Garcia, came off from the bench and provided the winning assist to Garcia in stoppage time.

Both players missed out on a starting place while Italian winger Marta Grosso, who put on a hard-working performance, and American Caitlin Rodgers, entrusted in the pivot role in midfield, were given the nod.

“A win is always a win and this is a huge one because it is a back-to-back victory in Europe,” Borg said.

“This will help Birkirkara improve their rankings in this competition while at the same time, it continues to help the image of the women’s game on our shores.”

Birkirkara’s reward is now a difficult game against FC Zurich of Switzerland on Saturday (kick-off: 6pm).

Coached by Jacqueline Dunker, Zurich are 24-time champions of Switzerland and have lifted the title in the last two seasons.

Last term, led by the now Switzerland coach Inka Grings, they reached the group stages of the Champions League for the first time, meeting giants Lyon, Arsenal, and Juventus in their group.

“This game will be very different,” Borg said.

“Zurich are a top team with some of the players still fresh from the recent Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. We have to be perfect in all aspects to be at our best.”

Zurich’s squad includes five players who represented Switzerland during this summer’s World Cup.

The Swiss side progressed from their group which included hosts New Zealand, the Philippines, and Norway.

Their run was halted in the last 16 by eventual champions Spain but Switzerland’s performances in this competition have continued to reflect their growth in the women’s game.

The Switzerland quintet in this competition were Seraina Piubel, Marion Rey, Nadine Riesen, Julia Stierli, and veteran forward Fabienne Humm.

Humm, 36, extended her Zurich contract this summer to another year as she continues her long spell at the club after joining in 2009.

Since then, Humm played over 376 games and scored 299 goals as she holds the record for all-time appearances and goals for Zurich.

Winner of 10 titles and seven cups, Humm has represented Switzerland on 79 occasions including in the Spain last 16 tie in the World Cup.

Zurich’s squad includes also summer signing Diane Caldwell. She is a 34-year-old defender who joined from Reading on a two-year deal.

Previously, Caldwell played in the USA’s National Women’s Soccer League and was also on the books of Manchester United before moving to Reading.

FC Zurich have already commenced their domestic campaign with two victories – vs Aarau (3-1) and vs Thun (4-1).

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