Thursday 27 October 2016

Army club Legia come to Dublin steeled for battle

Manager Besnik Hasi. Photo: Sportsfile
Manager Besnik Hasi. Photo: Sportsfile

It's not been easy, being a Legia Warsaw supporter over the years.

Two years ago, the club were deprived of a place in the play-off round of the Champions League - the stage they play on in Dublin tonight - after beating St Patrick's Athletic, denied due to an admin error which allowed a suspended player play. Two decades ago, there was the ignominy of the club's name being changed at the behest of their Korean sponsors, the proud old Warsaw club being renamed as Legia Daewoo for a period.

Hardcore fans then, and now, stuck with the club's oldest name, with the initials CWKS, which translates as the Central Army Sports Club, a nod at their origins as the sporting wing of the Polish army.

They are used to fighting, and they have come to Dublin ready for another battle this evening. If Dundalk are a club which hopes for Champions League qualification, Warsaw is a city that demands it.

It's been 20 years since Legia (or any Polish club) reached the group stages of that competition, and right now Legia, as a club and Warsaw, as a city, demand it. Europa League football is not enough.

Bankrolled for the last few years by wealthy owners, they have built a stunning-looking stadium which is a Champions League venue without a Champions League team, something they hope will change under their new Albanian manager Besnik Hasi.

They had a brief shock in their last meeting with an Irish club, Legia coming from behind to draw 1-1 at home to St Pat's before a 5-0 hammering for the Saints in Dublin, and they are ready for a fight here. "We saw what Wales and Iceland did at Euro 2016 and we see Dundalk as the same," says Legia's Czech international Adam Hlousek.

"Teams like that have fighting spirit in their blood, and we know we have to play against a team who will fight one for all and all for one. We have to battle for 90 minutes but we have to believe we can win."

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