Danish invaders thwart game Rovers

SHAMROCK ROVERS’ Champions League dream might have crashed and burned in Tallaght but at least they have the consolation of being parachuted into the play-offs of the Europa League.

And, for a full 40 minutes last night, the Hoops were entitled to dream of even greater glory as they took the game to the Danish champions, with only the woodwork denying them parity in the tie overall at one stage.

But a goal late in the first-half and another in the second finally made it a comfortable 3-0 aggregate victory for FC Copenhagen.

The Rovers supporters in a sellout crowd had invoked Dublin’s Viking heritage by unveiling a huge ‘We Fear No Danes’ flag just before kick-off and, from early on, the home team certainly took their cue from the legend.

Barely 10 minutes in, Billy Dennehy had the crowd on their feet as he surged into the box but the clamour for a penalty was quashed by the Turkish referee, who rightly felt he’d gone down too easily under a challenge. Then, moments later, a great low Pat Sullivan ball from the right was just begging for a green and white shirt to get on the end of it as it flew across the six-yard box. And on 17 minutes, Rovers came agonisingly close to taking the lead. Full back Enda Stephens sent in a superb cross from the left and Chris Turner’s powerful header crashed back off the angle of post and bar with Copenhagen keeper Johan Wiland a helpless bystander. Indeed, Turner had a second bite of the cherry from the rebound but this time his header cleared the top of the bar.

Rovers’ pulsating start appeared to have the Danes rocking as much as the crowd, the visiting defence clearly discomforted by the superb quality of the crosses which Dennehy and Stephens were swinging in from the left and the tricky Gary McCabe — on from the start after impressing as a sub in Copenhagen — was delivering from the opposite flank.

But, just short of the half-hour mark, Copenhagen suddenly displayed their own teeth. A quickly taken free caught Rovers napping and, from 25 yards, the Danes’ returning hotshot Dame N’Doye let loose a rasping drive which produced a spectacular two-fisted diving save from Rovers’ keeper Ryan Thomson.

And there was another scare for the home side when, after the Hoops defence had failed to clear the danger following a corner, Claudimir pivoted just outside the box to send a dipping half-volley just over Thompson’s bar.

Then three minutes from the break came the moment which broke Rovers’ hearts — and produced a silence which, to paraphrase Philip Greene, could probably be heard in Milltown.

It was a goal as soft as it was cruel too, as the leggy N’Doye found unguarded space beyond the far post to fire a deflected corner to the back of the net, with the Rovers defence and keeper standing flat-footed. Though the balance of the first-half action meant they scarcely deserved it, Copenhagen now had the vital away goal which required that the Hoops would have to score three to keep themselves in the Champions League.

Gary Twigg came close to pulling one back 10 minutes into the second half, the striker getting his head on the end of a Gary McCabe free and just failing to hit the target but, despite further nervy moments for the Copenhagen defence, the visitors’ tendency to play long passages of keep ball made it clear that they were now operating well within their comfort zone.

Despite Rovers’ best efforts to continue to make a game of it, all the drama had been drained from the occasion by N’Doye’s first half goal and, on 73 minutes, the man from Senegal was centrally involved in Copenhagen’s second, his powerful header producing a brilliant save from Thompson who could then do nothing to prevent Christian Bolanos netting from the rebound.

Adding injury to insult, Rovers then suffered the late blow of Pat Sullivan being stretchered off with what looked like a worrying knee injury.

The loyal home supporters kept up their battle hymns but, well before the final whistle, thoughts were already turning to Friday morning and the tantalising possibility of the Hoops bringing glamour opponents like Spurs or Celtic to Dublin in the Europa League.

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Thompson, Sullivan, Sives, Murray, Stevens, McCormack, McCabe (Kelly 65), Turner, Dennehy, Finn (Rice 74), Twigg (Kilduff 74).

FC COPENHAGEN: Wiland, Bengtsson, Ottesen, Grindheim, Bolanos (Delaney 78), Claudemir, Sigurdsson, Zanka, Kristensen (Absalonsen 90), Diouf (Santin 80), N’Doye.

Referee: Halis Ozkahya (Turkey).

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