For Rubin Kazan, this probably felt like a routine night’s work but, while the visitors were well worthy of their 3-0 victory, Rovers are entitled to bemoan a sluggish start to both halves of the game which saw them ship two costly goals.
However, the Russian side could also afford to squander a penalty – as, indeed, did Rovers – before they put the matter beyond all doubt with a third goal on the hour mark.
“Credit to the opposition,” said Hoops boss Michael O’ Neil afterwards. “I think they were the best side we’ve come up against in Europe and there were times when they really showed their class. But then this is a squad assembled at no little expense from all four corners of the world. The amount they spent on Obafemi Martins alone (€17m) could run our club for 10 years.”
In truth, the evening had begun full of promise for Rovers even if, surprisingly, the extra 2,500 seats behind the car-park goal were only half full. Still, beneath unusually sunny skies for the early evening kick-off, the atmosphere in the build-up was electric for the attendance of 6,920.
There were just under three minutes on the clock when Martins was given too much space in the box to, almost in slow motion, turn a low cross from Gokdeniz Karadeniz past the despairing dive of Ryan Thompson.
It took a full 15 minutes for Rovers to settle and, when they did, they immediately put Kazan under pressure. The move began with a long ball from Craig Sives which Gary Twigg did well to head into the path of Rohan Ricketts. The former Spurs man crossed invitingly from the left but Stephen O’Donnell’s header looped up and over the bar.
Growing in confidence, Rovers now enjoyed a positive spell during which they briefly played the more composed football, building their moves patiently from back to front yet, as the game moved past the half-hour mark, Sergei Ryzhikov still hadn’t had a save to make in the Kazan goal.
But before long Ryan Thompson did – and it was hugely welcomed in Tallaght Stadium, not least by Craig Sives who, caught for pace, had bundled over the speedy Martins in the box. The Hungarian referee had no choice but to point to the spot but Thompson saved brilliantly from Valdez – and again on the rebound — before Dan Murray scrambled the ball to safety.
As the second-half started, Rovers needed most of all to keep it tight but, in a replay of the start of the game, they fell behind again inside four minutes. This time, however, there could be no doubting the quality of the goal, as Ecuadorean international Christian Noboa ran onto Conor McCormack’s clearing header and unleashed a bullet of a shot which flew into the top corner from 25 yards.
It was to get worse on the hour mark, the influential Gokdeniz Karadeniz showing real quality to bend a vicious shot in off the underside of the crossbar after a fast and fluent passing move.
But, just two minutes later, Rovers were offered the chance of at least a consolation when Gary Twigg was brought down by Cesar Nevas as the striker bore down on goal. Unfortunately, summing up the night for the Hoops, the penalty hero of Belgrade, Stephen O’ Donnell, saw his spot kick spectacularly saved by the legs of diving ‘keeper Ryzhikov.
Next up, is the glamour trip of the group, a visit to White Hart Lane.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Thompson, Sullivan, Sives, Murray, Stevens, Rice, McCormack Dennehy (55), O’ Donnell, Finn (Kilduff), Ricketts (Turner 62)4, Twigg
FC RUBIN KAZAN: Ryzhikov, Bocchetti, Sharanov, Cesar Nevas, Kaleshin (Ansaldi 74), Noboa, Natcha, Martins (Bystrov 45), Ryazantsev, Karadeniz, Valdez (Dyadun 62)
Referee: Zsolt Szabo.