By James Rogers
Dundalk 0 BATE Borisov 0 (BATE Borisov win 2-1 on aggregate)
Dundalk's European dream came to an agonising end at Oriel Park tonight after they failed to find a breakthrough against BATE Borisov.
Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Stephen Kenny's side knew a 1-0 win would have seen them through to next week's third qualifying round of the Champions League and with it the guarantee of at least another four matches in Europe.
However, despite a valiant effort they couldn't break down a BATE side who have been in the group stages in five of the last seven seasons and beaten the likes of Bayern Munich in recent years.
The Louth men's goalscorer from the first leg, David McMillan, went closest to earning his side a €1.2m pay day after breaking through on goal midway through the first half. However, his effort from close range was wonderfully saved by Sergei Chernik, who ultimately proved the difference between the sides over the two legs having also pulled off a handful of top saves in last week's first leg.
Dundalk did ride their luck at times, needing to take risks, but by and large restricted their opponents to long range efforts leaving things right in the balance until the very end.
In the finish, they couldn't find a breakthrough and their European campaign has ended. They have been a great advert for Irish football though and, with a lead at the top of the table, they will no doubt look to be back at Europe's top table next season.
The Lilywhites were under the cosh early on with BATE captain Vitali Rodionov – who controversially was cleared to play in the game by UEFA on Monday despite admitting to headbutting Dane Massey in the first leg - volleying over from close range inside the opening 80 seconds.
The same player then had a shot charged down by the magnificent Stephen O'Donnell on 10 minutes and when the ball was returned to him in the danger area by Igor Stasevich he could only side-foot wide.
Stasevich then pulled a shot just wide before the home side slowly started to grow into the game.
Dundalk crashing out of the Champions League means that they'll now play Cork City in Oriel Park on Sunday at 6pm— Cork's RedFM Sport (@BigRedBench) July 22, 2015
After Dmitri Baga was fortunate to escape with just a yellow card for what looked a deliberate elbow on McMillan, a Richie Towell free kick to the back post was headed across goal by Massey with Brian Gartland and Chernik colliding.
That rallied the 3,200 in attendance with McMillan going close to breaking the deadlock on 25 minutes when he cut in from the left past Nemanja Milunovic only to see his effort stopped at close range by Chernik.
Dundalk had to ride their luck to remain on level terms by the break though as goalkeeper Gary Rogers saved a Filip Mladenovic free kick before Sean Gannon hooked off the line after a Milunovic effort had squirmed past him in the 40th minute.
The 34-year-old 'keeper then made a magnificent save three minutes before the break when he pushed a Stasevich shot onto the crossbar.
Thanks for all the wonderful support for Dundalk FC tonight.— Dundalk FC (@DundalkFC) July 22, 2015
The first big chance of the second half then fell the Louth men's way in the 58th minute when Chernik flapped at a Horgan free kick only for McMillan to head into the side-netting.
Dundalk had a let-off seconds later though when Mladenovic got a shot away from the left that flashed just wide of the right hand upright.
The visitors went close again in the 68th minute with Aleksandr Karnitski's ball in from the right picking out the run of substitute Nemanja Nikolic but he could only fire over from the edge of the six yard box
Dundalk pressed hard after that but an effort from Towell, which he failed to keep down, was the closest they came to a breakthrough.
Dundalk: Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Meenan (Shields 56), Towell, O'Donnell, Horgan (Byrne 81); Finn (Mountney 77), McMillan.
Subs not used: Grimes, Barrett, Kelly, Sava.
BATE Borisov: Chernik; Zhavnerchik, Dubra, Milunovic, Mladenović; Stasevich, Karnitski (Sihnevich 91), Aleksiyevich (Nikolic 68), Baga, Gordeichuk (Rios 86); Rodionov.
Subs not used: Haiduchyk, Yablonski, Valadzko, Saroka.
Referee: S Tritsonis (Greece).