Tuesday’s fixture against Greek powerhouses PAOK will provide the ultimate test of where Bohemians are, according to manager Keith Long.
All 8,000 tickets for the European Conference League third-round clash at Bohs’ temporary home of the Aviva Stadium sold out within 90 minutes.
PAOK are much more used to competing for the group stages of the Champions League, and reached that phase of the Europa League eight times over the past decade, and so will expect to sweep away the Gypsies in Uefa’s new third competition.
Keeping the tie alive for next week’s away leg is the priority for Bohs who are fourth in the League of Ireland table and still have players and staff working in jobs outside of football.
“We recognise it is a step-up in terms of the opposition from where we’ve been in the previous two games against Stjarnan and Dudelange,” said Long at today’s pre-match press conference.
“PAOK, a team full of internationals and quality, will be a big challenge but one we are really looking forward to. We want to try and test ourselves against high-level opposition and this is certainly that. It’s a great challenge for the boys and it’s a test to see where we are as a group.”
That Bohs are well into their season as opposed to visitors only starting theirs isn’t a major advantage.
“PAOK have faced high-level opposition in pre-season, like Feyenoord and PSV, so they will be well-prepared,” added Long about a side that will feature Shinji Kagawa, along with Portuguese internationals Vieirinha and Nelson Oliveira.
Defender Rob Cornwall knows he’ll be in for a busy night. “It’s hard to judge PAOK off video analysis but they look good," he said.
“Playing on a carpet of a pitch at the Aviva suits us and it’s great to have fans back in the stadium but you zone out to concentrate on your individual battles.”
Nicknamed “Rockstar” by his teammate Keith Ward, the reference was greeted loudly by fans when belted out over the Aviva public address system last week.
“I think it's just the life that I live!” joked the centre-back, who has become the poster boy at the League of Ireland club for modelling their various new replica jerseys.
Meanwhile, should Bohs somehow produce a shock result, they’ll face the winner of the Hibernian versus NHK Rijeka in a play-off for the group stages.
Today’s draw in Uefa also pitted Dundalk against either KF Laçi of Albania or RSC Anderlecht from Belgium if they can beat Dutch side Vitesse over two legs.
Shamrock Rovers, on the Champions Path side of the draw, will meet the loser of the tie between Omonoia v Flora Tallinn should they overcome Albanian outfit Teuta by Thursday week.
- The stream of Bohs v PAOK can be purchased from LOITV for €10.