15 September, 2011

History made by Ireland's Shamrock Rovers but comfortably beaten by classy Russian outfit:

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Merthins gave visitors early lead
            Shamrock Rovers became the first Irish side to play in the Group stages of a major European competition as they faced Rubin Kazan in the Europa League at Tallaght Stadium tonight.  Pre-match press conferences might have suggested that the Russians had under-researched their opponents - along with forgotting their geography - as star midfielder Rodoba stated:  "We don't know much about Shamrock but we will be wary of them because we know how Glasgow Celtic and Rangers are!!"  
            Commentators said before the game:  "If the Russians have no respect for Rovers, they'll start the game with a 4-2-4 formation,"  -  which is exactly what they did.   This bypassing midfield proved to be a wise choice as they went 0-1 in the second minute with a long diagonal ball setting the Irish defence on the backfoot and when the ball was squared back across goal, the unmarked Martins stuck the ball into the far corner.  The signs looked ominous for the home side but after initial nerves, they came very much into the game before the mid point of the first half.
'keeper Thompson keeps Rovers in it with penalty save
            Ten minutes before half-time, they conceded a penalty however which was well saved by Thompson and hopes were high going into the break.  Four minutes into the second half however, home hopes were extinguished when the aforementioned Rodoba crashed a spectaculor volley into the top corner of Rovers net from 20 yards out.
Rovers fans stuck behind their team
Rodoba (left) sealed game with a cracker
               On the hour; the Russians netted another cracker with Gokdeniz Karadeniz creating space just inside the Rovers' box before smacking one in to the net off the underside of the crossbar from 15 yards out.             
               Whilst they had been outplayed at times, I felt a 0-3 deficit was harsh on Rovers and they won a penalty shortly after the hour mark.  The hero of Belgrade; Stephen O'Donnell took it, but his effort was saved and Rovers scoresheet was to remain blank.  Manager Michael O'Neill spoke candidly and honestly afterwards acknowledging that  "This was another step up tonight."  The 2011 League of Ireland champions have some way to go to earn points in this European campaign but if they keep battling the way they did tonight - and their heads never droped tonight - then they have every chance of churning out a result or two on a stage that is a huge learning curve.
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