Underdog Hoops look to upset great Danes

IT’S everything to play for but not quite everything to lose for Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium tonight as they look to overturn a one-goal deficit against FC Copenhagen in their third round Champions League qualifier.

Even if the Hoops drop out of the Champions League this evening, their fall would be cushioned by a place in the Europa League play-offs. But the prize for success is so much greater since further progression in Europe’s elite competition would be worth in the region of €3m to the Airtricity League champions.

But though enticing, talk of such riches is really for tomorrow – assuming Rovers can upset the odds against the Danish champions who went into the first leg as hot favourites to progress.

Yet, despite conceding an early goal in the Parken Stadium, it was the underdogs who emerged with most credit if, unfortunately, nothing to show on the scoreboard for a couple of great chances they had to equalise.

Unluckily too, they shipped the significant blow of losing central defender Ken Oman who could now be out of action for anything from four to ten weeks with medial knee ligament.

Oman’s difficulty, however, is Dan Murray’s opportunity with the former Cork City man set to reclaim a starting place for tonight’s big game.

“A 1-0 defeat out there was, in European terms, not the worst thing that could happen, especially in a tie that not many people gave us a chance in,” Murray says. “So it’s everything to play for tonight. Only being 1-0, we don’t have to go chasing anything too early. As long as we can keep it tight for as long as we can and — easier said than done — don’t concede a goal, we’ve shown we can score goals from different areas of the pitch.

“All the players have experience in Europe now and it shows. And this team has a great opportunity now to progress to the next round.”

Murray concedes that the Danes go into the game as favourites but he’s hoping that Rovers on home soil can surprise them even more than they did in Copenhagen.

“Most of their players are internationals and most of them have played for Copenhagen for a few years now, so they know the expectation,” says Murray. “They win their league easily pretty much every year and they were in the Champions League last year, so — no disrespect to ourselves — they’ve played bigger teams than us and got results.

“You could tell that they were expecting an easier game out there and probably expected to have a two or three-goal lead coming over here, so it was a credit to our lads that they put in such a great performance and the tie is still alive. They probably haven’t played in a stadium as small as this in a long time so hopefully that’ll get into their heads.”

Gary McCabe, an inspirational sub for Rovers in Denmark, is set to get the nod from the start tonight from manager Michael O’Neill who is sticking by his view that the balance of the tie still favours the opposition by about 60-40.

“At the end of the day, they have the lead in the tie, they haven’t conceded at home and they will be fully aware, should they manage to score, of the strength of the position that will put them in,” he points out.

But if his team play their cards right, O’ Neill is convinced that Rovers can still scoop the pot. The key, he reckons, is not to gamble recklessly.

“We’ll play in the same sort of mindset as we did last week,” he says.

“I thought we were stronger in the second half there and we may have to go long into the game before we can get into a position where we believe we can win the game and the tie.

“It won’t be an approach where we are looking to score right from the off. We will approach the game in a sensible fashion not a reckless fashion.

“Losing a goal will give us a big task so we have to make sure we keep the tie as tight as possible. But I believe we’re capable of scoring.”

The problem is that so do Copenhagen, especially since their highly rated Senegalese striker, Dame N’Doye is back from injury and set to lead the line tonight.

Before his side trained in Tallaght yesterday, Copenhagen manager Roland Nilsson suggested that taking an early lead in the first leg didn’t work to his team’s advantage, since they proceeded to lose shape and momentum and struggled to get it back.

“We’re more ready this time,” he said. “We know what’s coming, we know it will be a tough game and we know we will need a good performance if we are to score, because that would put pressure on Shamrock.”

Asked, bluntly, if his team needed to be better than last time, Nilsson’s reply was equally blunt.

“Yes,” he said. “And they will.”

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