Last Thursday, Birkirkara FC made history as they became the first Maltese side to reach the Third Qualifying Round of the UEFA Europa League.
The Stripes will face Krasnodar FC of Russia on Thursday with the second leg being played in early August.
More than 50 Birkirkara fans watched their side beat Scottish giants, Hearts 2-1 at Tynecastle on Thursday.
Goals from Christian Bubalovic in the 54th minute and Edward Herrera in the 66th minute gave Birkirkara a confident lead before former Derby Country striker, Conor Sammon scored a consolation goal.
Goalscorer, Edward Herrera spoke to ElWriteBack about the two legs against Hearts, “If you look at the two matches, you can see that Hearts were superior in possession and kept us pegged back for long stretches. But we were happy with that as long as they didn’t penetrate our defence.
“We surprised them in the second leg by playing with two up front and in the end, we took our chances well and had two goals to show for it. Having said that, luck also played its part. Hearts had a goal disallowed, hit the post on at least three occasions, and even missed a penalty. But that’s football.
“In terms of the historic qualification, that means a lot. It’s like breaking a mental barrier and has opened up our minds that it can be done with hard work and determination. Nothing comes easy and we’ve been training hard for over six weeks now to be as prepared as possible.”
When questioned about his goal, Herrera said: “The goal was just the icing on the cake, an extra bonus of sorts. I hadn’t started a match for over seven months due to injury so for me it represented all the hard work that I went through before and after my operation to return to first team football.
“It was an amazing feeling and I just went wild with jubilation. The fact that it was against Hearts was also an added bonus given the publicity of the game.
“I think the team changed a bit its mentality at that point in the game too, as Hearts needed to score three goals to qualify.”
Herrera went on to speak about what European competitions mean to Maltese clubs, “For Maltese clubs, European competitions are very important as they are the biggest source of income.
“It is also a way of earning recognition and respect outside of Malta. For the Maltese players they represent a unique experience of what it feels to be a professional player; the travelling, playing in different grounds with different atmospheres, and the noise from the crowd!”
Birkirkara face Russian side, Krasnodar in the next round. The talented 29-year-old commented on the fixture sayng, “Krasnodar are definitely a very strong and experienced outfit whereas we are the newcomers. For us it’s going to be a huge learning curve and we are really looking forward to playing another two European matches rather than going on a training camp or playing friendly matches.
“We’re going to prepare well like we did for the previous two rounds, give it our best and most importantly enjoy the experience. Playing in Scotland in front of 13,000 supporters was already amazing and we’ve earned another match in similar conditions.”