Revealed: What links West Ham’s next Europa foes to Arsenal?
West Ham’s voyage into Europe takes another step forward on Thursday, with Birkirkara of Malta their next visitors to the Boleyn Ground.
Those who went in heavy on the Hammers to triumph by a cricket score against FC Lusitans in the first qualifying round were left disappointed after a meagre 4-0 aggregate win over the Andoran minnows.
And their next opponents will pose an altogether different test, having come through comprehensive winners against Armenia outfit Ulisses last week.
But what else do the team that finished third in the Maltese Premier League have going for them?
Here’s five nuggets of information about the Stripes that you may not have known.
- 1. They have real international pedigree
OK, the Maltese national team may have lost 11 of their last 16 matches, but the players are internationals nonetheless.
And if you want to see the biggest contributors to the nation’s side, look no further than Birkirkara, the side containing no fewer than 11 players with caps for the Falcons, with seven Stripes players in the squad for Malta’s Euro qualifier against Bulgaria last month.
- 2. They have a 103-goal Serie A striker in their midst
Having picked up two Coppa Italia runners-up medals with Juventus and Palermo it is somewhat of a coup that the Maltese outfit have snapped up the former Azzuri international Fabrizio Miccoli for the season.
While he is rather more ‘portly’ these day, he still have a decent touch, scoring one and setting up another on his debut in the last round.
- 3. They’re not ones for sitting back
While many would expect visitors who are heavy underdogs to come to Upton Park and park the bus in an attempt to return home with as little disadvantage as possible. Not Birkirkara.
Scoring away from the Infetti Ground is what they do best, netting two or more goals in nine of their last 12 matches on the road. While it’s very hard to imagine West Ham drawing a blank, the 3/2 on both teams finding the net could be a tempting proposition.
- 4. They don’t have the best European record
Giovanni Tedesco’s side are attempting to make the third qualifying round for the first time in the history, that coming at just the 13th time of asking.
To further compound their misery, they have only won three of their 38 matches in European competition in their history, so it will be a massive ask for them to come away from east London with the advantage.
- 5. They have an Arsenal connection
In 1979 Alan Sunderland became an Arsenal hero when his out-stretched leg grabbed a last-gasp winner to clinch the FA Cup for the Gunners at the expense of Manchester United.
But when his career ended, it was Malta rather than north London that he called home, turning his hand to management, patrolling the dugout as coach of Birkirkara in the 1997-98 season, leading them to a second placed finish and a Euro Challenge Cup triumph.
So there you have it, with these five facts we can now confidently say that the game at Upton Park will end with Fabrizio Miccoli netting a last minute goal to record a 2-2 draw for the visitors. If only betting was that easy!
But if you do fancy West Ham to come out on top with the visitors finding the net, then you can take advantage of Ladbrokes’ latest price boost, with the price enhanced from 7/4 to 11/4 from 8am on Thursday.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.