Saturday 16 December 2017

Staying in Europe a challenge for LOI sides with tough UEFA draws

Dundalk’s Gary Rogers
Dundalk’s Gary Rogers
Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley is preparing for a trip to face Icelandic side Stjarnan

At least the League of Ireland's representatives in European competition this summer avoided the security nightmare which is a possible Linfield-Celtic tie in Belfast around the time of the July 12th marches.

But UEFA's draw for the early rounds of the Champions League and Europa League have not been kind to LOI sides as Dundalk and Derry City in particular will need a real effort to make it past the first hurdle.

Shamrock Rovers have a potentially tricky tie against Icelandic opposition and only Cork City, drawn with Estonian side Levadia Tallinn, can be happy. Belfast has hosted potentially difficult European ties before - Shelbourne played Glentoran in the Champions League in 2005 while Celtic were practically the home side for their trip to play Cliftonville.

But a Linfield-Celtic game, which has to be played on either the day of, or the eve of, July 12th, is a security nightmare - that's presuming that Linfield get through their first-round tie against San Marino opposition.

Dates and times have yet to be fixed but it's thought that Linfield's home tie with the Bhoys will be played on Tuesday July 11th, with an early kick-off and strict regulations on the sale of alcohol around Windsor Park.

Dundalk's problems are on the field as they will be really tested by Rosenborg, the club which currently has the much-travelled Nicklas Bendtner on the books.

"It's going to be a difficult tie but as an unseeded team that was always going to be the case. From our point of view, Rosenborg aren't drastically better than the likes of BATE Borisov and Legia Warsaw and we feel we're capable of going through," says Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers.

Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny has already done battle with Rosenborg, as he was Bohemians boss when the sides met in the Champions League back in 2003. The Norwegians won that tie (5-0 on aggregate) and their record against teams from this part of the world is exemplary.

Shamrock Rovers, beaten by Norwegian opposition last term, will take nothing for granted in their meeting with Icelandic side Stjarnan.

That club were well beaten (6-1) by Celtic in the Champions League last year, but the previous season Stjarnan overcame Welsh, Scottish and, surprisingly, Polish opposition (Lech Poznan) in the Europa League before a 9-0 spanking by Inter Milan. Rovers were drawn away for the first leg, on Thursday week.

Also in the Europa League, Cork City will be happy enough with their draw, against Levadia Tallinn. Like Rosenborg, Levadia have a history with Irish teams: a win and a loss to Bohs while in 2008 Drogheda knocked them out of the Champions League.

The Estonian side have really struggled in Europe of late, including an 8-1 hammering by Sparta Prague three years ago, and Cork will expect to progress.

Derry's draw against Danish side Midtjylland, who knocked out Southampton and then beat Manchester United 2-1 over 90 minutes in 2015/16, looks like mission impossible.

The rewards for progression are already known for the Europa League sides. Should Rovers get through, they play Czech outfit Mlada Boleslav; Cork play Cypriot side AEK Larnaca, presuming they account for Gibraltar opposition; and Derry would play either Ferencvaros (Hungary) or Jelgava (Latvia).

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