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Friday 17 August 2018

Champions League dream is over with no quibbles from champs Cork

Legia Warsaw 3 Cork City 0 (Legia win 4-0 on agg)

Karl Sheppard applauds the Cork fans at the end of the game. Photo: Lukasz Grochala/Sportsfile
Karl Sheppard applauds the Cork fans at the end of the game. Photo: Lukasz Grochala/Sportsfile

They soldiered away in the Polish Army Stadium, but effort was not enough for Cork City as they now exit the Champions League.

Beating Legia Warsaw on Polish soil has been beyond the capability of clubs like Real Madrid and Ajax in the last number of years, so if ever there was a mission impossible for an Irish club in Europe, John Caulfield's side faced it last night. They needed to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the home leg to advance.

In that first leg one goal was enough for Legia, but they treated their fans in a crowd of 14,576 to three last night, Jose Kante with the first midway through the second half, a second from the penalty spot from classy Serbian attacker Miroslav Radovic and a final blow for Cork two minutes from time, scored by Spanish forward Carlitos. There can be no quibbles for Cork as the better side won this tie.

Legia (who had five senior internationals in their starting XI) are a club with serious ambitions about being in the group stages of this competition, but again the thought remains that with a more clinical edge when they posed a threat, as Karl Sheppard did in the first minute of the second half, City could have at least nicked a goal, if not a win, over 180 minutes of energy-sapping football.

Of course, the European venture is not over for Cork as they now go through the back door of the Europa League, with a bye into the third qualifying round.

Dundalk are the best-placed of the three Irish clubs who are in Europa League action tomorrow night in terms of advancing, but it will suit Cork's domestic agenda to have their title rivals Dundalk play (hopefully) two more Europa games in the second round while City can focus on the league.

Giants

A Cork win here was never really going to happen. Legia Warsaw don't lose at home to clubs like Cork City, and in fact the Polish giants have been beaten just once in their last 12 home games in Europe, that one loss a 6-0 thumping by Borussia Dortmund in the group stages of the Champions League.

A 3-0 loss on the night, a 4-0 defeat on aggregate, shows that on the field of play, the gulf between the two sides exists.

But a trip to play an outfit like Legia also shows how far behind Irish clubs are off the field of play.

Cork come from a league where 20 per cent of the clubs in the Premier Division this season have had serious problems in paying wages, although Polish football is not perfection, evidenced here last night as Legia were ordered by UEFA to close one of their stands due to recent crowd trouble.

Conor McCormack steals the ball off Legia's Jose Kante with a sliding tackle. Photo: Lukasz Grochala/Sportsfile
Conor McCormack steals the ball off Legia's Jose Kante with a sliding tackle. Photo: Lukasz Grochala/Sportsfile

According to the UEFA coefficient table, Legia are 59th in Europe in terms of club sides, Cork way down the last at No. 341.

And yet Cork were in the game, though maybe not the tie, for a spell. John Caulfield had said before the match his initial hope was to get to the 30-minute mark without conceding, assess how Legia stood up to the Irish side and see how the home fans dealt with the lack of goals.

As it happened, the goal came for Legia just short of Caulfield's target, on 28 minutes. City had, however, enjoyed a bit of early possession, Conor McCormack's ball into Graham Cummins on five minutes requiring some work from keeper Arkadiusz Malarz.

Legia were being patient, though, two shots from Polish international Michal Kucharczyk going close. But then they got their breakthrough: Mateusz Wieteska sent in a tasty-looking ball for Cafu, his flick fell just perfectly for Jose Kante and the Guinea international volleyed home.

Cork tried an immediate response, Karl Sheppard sending a shot just over the bar while at the other end, William Remy forced a save from Cork's Scottish-born keeper Peter Cherrie.

With a 2-0 aggregate lead at half-time, it was job done for Legia, but they were guilty of slack play. A poor backpass from William Remy put keeper Malarz under pressure and that gifted an opening to Sheppard, but he was unable to make the effort count.

Graham Cummins is closed down quickly by Legia Warsaw's Inaki Astiz. Photo: Lukasz Grochala/Sportsfile
Graham Cummins is closed down quickly by Legia Warsaw's Inaki Astiz. Photo: Lukasz Grochala/Sportsfile

Legia snapped out of it, Wieteska and Kante making keeper Cherrie work hard and the Scot was beaten again on 72 minutes.

Conor McCormack could not complain when the Norwegian referee awarded a penalty for his foul on Radovic and the winger stepped up to successfully take the kick, sub Carlitos adding a third two minutes from time.

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