Irish Daily Mail

Hoops aim to turn up the heat on Albanian opponents

Rovers can inch closer to €3m payout by thriving in cauldron conditions against Teuta...

- by PHILIP QUINN

THREE clubs, one goal. Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk and Bohemians have flown the flag for Irish club football across Europe this summer.

After 13 games between them, they are each 270 minutes from qualificat­ion for the group phase of the Europa Conference League which carries a minimum €3m prize fund for the 32 clubs who get there.

Firstly, they must negotiate the potential minefields which lie in wait this evening in Albania (Rovers), Greece (Bohemians) and Dublin 24 (Dundalk) to extend their Euro adventures to the play-off round.

The odds are against all three surviving although they each carry a fighting chance from their first-leg endeavours.

Champions Rovers put their ECL credential­s on the block in a Balkans sweatbox with manager Stephen Bradley insisting the heat will be ‘no excuse’ for Rovers failing to perform.

A goal to the good against a Teuta team they had the measure of in Tallaght, Rovers are in pole position to prevail and top up their €1.1m UEFA payout by a further €650,000.

The third-round qualifier has been switched 80 kilometres from Teuta’s coastal home of Durres to the landlocked city of Elbasan, which comes from an Ottoman word ‘il-basan’, meaning the fortress.

Should Rovers get the right result, they will advance to the play-off round where the eminently beatable Estonian opposition awaits.

‘It does help us that the game has been moved. They (Teuta) are talking 400 to 500 of their fans, at most, which obviously helps as there would have been a lot more at their place,’ said Bradley, who gave an update on the weather in a blistering­ly hot region of Europe dotted with wild fires.

‘Yesterday was really hot, high 30s,’ he said. ‘Today is hot but cloudy and tomorrow is meant to be really sunny — I sound like a weatherman here — and it will be hot so we have to prepare for that, deal with it and manage the game at the right times.

‘I am sure we will, we are an experience­d team in Europe, we’ve played a lot of games, played in (the heat of ) Cyprus and Bratislava recently, so there are no excuses.

‘We know what we are facing and we know how to manage it.’

Rovers struggled with the heat and humidity away to Slovan, losing 2-0, and will be better prepared for the conditions this evening.

‘We knew what we were coming into. The fact we faced it in Bratislava will help us. We know what we’re facing in terms of the heat and what it’s going to be like at kick-off time. So no excuses,’ said Bradley.

It’s also a plus that they’re not facing a team of the calibre of the Slovakian champions.

On the team front, Rovers have everyone to call on bar Neil Farrugia which increases Bradley’s options. Having a strong bench will be useful if the Hoops are either chasing a goal, or looking to close out the game.

In-form Graham Burke has the invention, close control and trickery to trouble Teuta.

Rovers have developed a habit for scoring late goals, as was the case in the first leg and against Longford last Sunday.

While their resolve is admirable, scoring early this evening would not only double their advantage but would puncture the wavering self-belief of their opponents.

‘We have to approach the game like it’s 0-0,’ said Bradley.

‘We have to go with that mindset, to win the game, we don’t go anywhere to settle for a 0-0.

‘It’ll be a totally different game to last week as they’ll come out and play.’

Where the goal, or goals, come from isn’t a concern for Bradley. ‘What we’ve always done is shared goals throughout the team.

‘We said that from day one, we don’t rely on one person to score goals, it’s about what we do as a collective and that’s the same domestical­ly and in Europe. Our approach doesn’t change.’ There is no shortage of big-game experience within the Rovers ranks, with a cluster of internatio­nals, Alan Mannus, Joey O’Brien, Pico Lopes and Burke among them. ‘This group has played a lot of European games together and it’s that know-how and understand­ing of each other that is really important. ‘Ronan (Finn), I think has the

“We’re going in with the mindset to win the game”

second highest number of appearance­s in Europe, Joey (O’Brien) has played a lot of big games and Alan (Mannus) too.

‘There is experience through the team and I think that helps in big European games.

‘We understand as a group how to manage games and that will be very important tomorrow.’

Should Rovers keep their cool, in every sense, they would face Flora Tallinn for the right to qualify for the lucrative group phase.

The Estonians, who lost to Rovers 1-0 on aggregate a decade ago in the Champions League, drop into the ECL after being edged out of the Europa League on penalties by Omonia Nicosia of Cyprus.

‘I watched a bit of it. We’ve got a big job to do here and if we do that right, then we can fully look towards Flora Tallinn. Right now, it’s about focusing on Teuta,’ said Bradley.

It’s only a long throw-in from St Mary’s Boxing Club to Tallaght Stadium and Rovers have the means, motive and opportunit­y to follow the example of Kellie Harrington and deliver a knock-out blow of their own.

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 ??  ?? On target: Aidomo Emakhu scored for Rovers against Teuta last week
On target: Aidomo Emakhu scored for Rovers against Teuta last week
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