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Birkirkara focused to do well in Champions League

Birkirkara players train ahead of today’s Champions League opener against Zhytlobud-1 Kharkiv.

Birkirkara players train ahead of today’s Champions League opener against Zhytlobud-1 Kharkiv.

Birkirkara will represent Malta in the UEFA Women’s Champions League as from this evening when they kick off their commitments in the qualifying tournament in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

The Stripes, in their sixth participation in this club competition, were drawn in Group 6 and will open their European journey when they face hosts Zhytlobud-1 Kharkiv, this afternoon (kick-off: 4pm).

On Friday, Melania Bajada’s clan will be up against Romania’s Olimpia Cluj before wrapping up their commitments against Cardiff Met Women, of Wales, on August 13.

The ten qualifying group winners and the two runners-up with the best record against the sides placed first and third in their section, proceed to the round of 32, with the two-legged knockout phase commencing in September.

For the second straight season, Birkirkara will be guidedby former player Bajada who last season steered the Stripes towards a domestic double after winning both the BOV Women’s League and the domestic cup.

Last season, Birkirkara were close to become the second Maltese squad to win a point in the women’s Champions League but a stoppage-time goal denied them a point against Olimpija Ljubljana, of Slovenia.

This time around the Stripes are determined to secure a positive result and they have severely strengthened their squad with some quality signings.

They offered new contracts to Ann-Marie Said, Jelena Stankovic and Tracy Teuma and added youth players Miriana Conti and Kailey Willis, even though the latter won’t be eligible to feature for the Stripes in Ukraine due to age-restrictions. 

However, their major coup was Ylenia Carabott.

The prolific goalscorer arrives to the Stripes after a successful stint with Hibernians with whom she won all major domestic silverware.

Carabott, 29, won nine top-scorer awards, scoring an impressive 334 goals in 257 domestic appearances and the Stripes will be banking on her clinical prowess to leave their mark in Europe.

With various appearances in the Champions League with Hibernians and an addition 73 caps with Malta on the international stage, Carabott has the right track record to lead Birkirkara’s front line in Ukraine.

Asked by the Times of Malta on what motivated her to join the Stripes, Carabott said that the opportunity of playing Champions League football played a big part in taking on a new challenge.

“Birkirkara are one of the best teams in Malta and every season they are challenging for the main honours,” Carabott said.

“Besides, playing in the UEFA Women’s Champions League was a huge motivation for me.

“The Birkirkara players gave me a great welcome to the club despite my past with Hibernians and that helped me to settle in quickly.”

After firing blanks during last year’s campaign, Birkirkara are hoping that Carabott can shift her domestic scoring record onto the European scene.

“I think my experience will prove valuable in such encounters given the strength of our opponents,” Carabott said.

“Undoubtedly, my aim will be to help those around me especially the youth players who are tasting this level at an early stage of their careers.

“We arrive to this competition aware of the level of difficulty that this group will provide us but I think we have our cards in order to have our say in this year’s edition.”

Carabott played against Bajada many times when the latter was still playing with the likes of Gozo and Birkirkara, hence they have a good knowledge of each other.

“Melania is a very intelligent person. Despite her young age, she is one of the most clever coaches in the league right now,” Carabott said of her new coach.

“Her experience as a player is proving useful to her and so far, she has been always there to encourage us and showing us new ideas week in week out which will be beneficial for us in the long run.”

Squad

Goalkeepers: Janice Xuereb, Nina Dimech.

Defenders: Ann-Marie Said, Jelena Sakic, Mariah Sciberras, Miriana Conti, Nicole Zammit, Samantha Zarb, Stephania Farrugia, Sonia Schembri, Yasmeen Vella.

Midfielders: Alishia Sultana, Gabriella Zahra, Kim Parnis, Raina Giusti, Sarah Uprani, Tracy Teuma.

Forwards: Ylenia Carabott, Kelly Agius Pace, Jacqueline Demuth.

 

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