Hibernians were handed a tricky tie in the Champions League qualifiers as yeterday the Paolites were drawn to face Estonia’s FCI Tallinn in the first qualifying round.
The Paolites, winners of a 12th national league title last month, were one of the five seeded teams in the pot and were hopeful of being paired with lesser-quoted clubs – San Marino’s La Fiorita, Andorra’s Santa Coloma or Gibraltar’s Europa FC.
However, Hibs will now have to travel to eastern Europe to play FCI Tallinn in the second leg. The first match will be played at Corradino on June 27 and 28 with the return in Tallinn a week later.
Mark Miller, the Hibs coach, is still confident his team can reach the second qualifying round where a tie against Austria’s FC Salzburg awaits the winners.
“I think this is a winnable tie for us,” Miller told Times of Malta.
“It could have been better for us had we picked opponents from San Marino or Gibraltar but I believe that we can beat Tallinn and reach the next round.
“From a travelling point of view it was not the best… we have a long trip to reach Estonia but at least the first leg will be played home which gives us more time to improve on our fitness ahead of the second leg.”
While Hibernians have just started their pre-season preparations, FCI Tallinn are already half-way through their domestic season.
After 16 Premium Liiga matches, Tallinn look out of the reckoning to defending their title as they are currently fourth in the standings on 24 points, 20 adrift of leaders Flora Tallinn.
“FCI Tallinn will be more prepared than us, physically, for sure,” Miller said.
“They have played several matches this season and will reach the Champions League matches in peak form. Looking at their position in the league they don’t look to be as strong as they were last year but we will discover that when we will play them in two weeks’ time.”
Miller said that he will be trying to gather as much information as possible on FCI Tallinn but reiterated that the most important aspect for him is that his players reach their best possible shape.
He said he is pleased with how things are developing in pre-season and his only concern is the fitness of three overseas players – Brazilian duo Jackson Lima and Jorginho and new signing Martin Kreuzriegler from Austria.
“I can’t ask for more from the squad. They have worked really hard since we started training for the new season,” Miller said.
“We’re focused on the first leg where we hope we can bag a positive result that can put us in a good position ahead of the return match.
“Jackson Lima, Jorginho and Martin Kreuzriegler are not 100 per cent fit and I will not take any risks as we cannot afford to lose them for a long time. We’ll just wait and see how they are until the last minute.”
Kreuzriegler has so far been Hibs’ only signing as the defender was offered a one-year contract. He could be joined by his former Floridsdorfer AC team-mate, Marco Sahanek.
English midfielder Joe Colbeck who has been on trial with the Paolites is unlikely to be retained after failing to impress during a short trial.
First qualifying round draw
Vikingur (Faroe Islands) vs Trepca (Kosovo).
Hibernians (Malta) vs FCI Tallinn (Estonia).
Alashkert (Armenia) vs Santa Coloma (Andorra).
TNS (Wales) vs Europa (Gibraltar).
Linfield (N. Ireland) vs La Fiorita (San Marino).
First legs: June 27/28.
Second legs: July 4/5.
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