West Ham United’s UEFA Europa League qualifying campaign continues on Thursday when Slaven Bilic’s men welcome Birkirkara of Malta to the Boleyn Ground.
Having seen off FC Lusitans in the opening qualifying round by a 4-0 aggregate scoreline, West Ham will hope to take a step closer to the group stage in front of another huge Bolyen Ground crowd.
Birkirkara qualified for the competition by winning the Maltese Cup last season and booked their place at this stage with an impressive victory over Armenian side Ulisses.
Thursday’s visitors had to make progress the hard way, having drawn 0-0 at home, but a 3-1 second leg win on their travels completed the job.
Birkirkara were formed in 1950 and have enjoyed great success domestically in the last 20 years, winning four Maltese championships, five FA Trophies and seven Maltese Super Cups in that period.
Regulars in European competition, this is their 17th campaign in Europe, and they have won three of their 19 ties.
Before this year’s triumph against Ulisses, their other victories came in a UEFA Champions League first qualifying round match against Santa Coloma of Andorra in 2010/11 and a UEFA Cup qualifying round tie against Georgia’s Locomotive Tbilisi 14 years ago.
The Stripes were third place finishers in the Maltese Premier League in 2014/15, with Hibernians and Valletta beating them to the top two slots.
West Ham United
Slaven Bilic is back in the dugout for this match and is set to name a strong team as the Hammers try to make a statement of intent in the early part of pre-season.
Several players who featured at Peterborough United on Saturday could be involved on Thursday, so the likes of Mark Noble, Aaron Cresswell, Kevin Nolan and Winston Reid might be given their first competitive work-outs of the summer.
New signing Pedro Obiang is also eligible, but Diafra Sakho and Dimitri Payet will both serve suspensions
Birkirkara’s main man is former Italy international Fabrizio Miccoli, who signed from Lecce in the summer. The 36-year-old is best known for his spells with Fiorentina, Juventus and Palermo, where he scored goals regularly and reached two Coppa Italia finals.
He scored in the first qualifying round win over Ulisses and is set to start again. Other notable players in their squad include Brazilian midfielder Rafael Ladesma, Maltese international goalkeeper Justin Haber and midfielder Gareth Sciberras, who has 34 caps for Malta. Left back Joseph Zerafa spent last season at Grays Athletic and Welling United.
- West Ham will play their 51st match in European competition when they welcome Birkirkara to the Boleyn Ground. They have won 26, drawn nine and lost 15 of the previous 50.
- Thursday’s match officials all hail from Austria. Referee Markus Hameter is 35-year-old and has taken the whistle in the Austrian Bundesliga and Swiss Super League and in internationals involving Georgia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Finland and Iran. The assistant referee are Roland Braunschmidt and Andreas Heidenreich. The fourth official is Julian Weinberger.
- 33 ties will be played in this round of the competition, with the winners joining 25 teams who enter at the next stage.
- The Stripes have notched 27 goals in their 19 European ties, conceding 79 in the process.
- Their best European runs are to the first round of the UEFA Cup in 2000/01, the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League in 2010/11 and the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League this season.
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Tickets, Travel, Weather & TV Coverage
- Tickets purchased on matchday are priced at £20 Adults and £10 Under-16s. Supporters can purchase at whufcboxoffice.com or at the Betway Stand Ticket Office from 9am.
- whufc.com will carry live updates throughout the night, with live text commentary, photos and stats.
- No closures are planned on the Underground lines serving Upton Park. At present, a good service is also anticipated on Greater Anglia and c2c services.
- Sunny intervals are expected around time of kick-off, with temperatures of 22C/72F
- Please be aware that alcohol will not be sold at the concourse concessions in accordance with UEFA regulations.