Former Genk manager Alex McLeish has warned Cork City to brace for “an onslaught” in tonight’s Europa League first leg clash in Belgium.
City travel to Belgium on a high after their gutsy win over Swedish side BK Hacken, with Kevin O’Connor’s strike at Turner’s Cross sending them through to the next round, but they now face an even tougher assignment tonight against Belgian Jupiler League heavyweights Genk.
Former Rangers, Birmingham, and Scotland boss McLeish managed Genk during the 2014/2015 season, and warns the Belgians present a massive task for John Caulfield’s men.
“I think Cork have done very well to progress this far and got a very good result last Thursday to get to this stage but this is a different level again now,” said McLeish, a European Cup Winners’ Cup winner himself as a player with Aberdeen under Alex Ferguson in 1983.
“Genk will be looking at this game tonight and will fancy themselves to finish the tie off early. They won’t want to go to Ireland with the tie in the balance.
“I think Cork City should expect an all-out onslaught from the first minute from Genk. It’s going to be very tough for Cork — if they can come away with a draw, I think it will be a magnificent result.
“Belgian football is a good standard and they play good, attractive football.
“You can see with the international team, and Belgian clubs have performed well in the Champions League group stages — KAA Gent qualified for the last 16 last year, and the previous season Anderlecht drew 3-3 at Arsenal and were only beaten by two last-minute goals at home to Arsenal to lose 2-1. That’s the kind of team you’re up against.”
McLeish highlights a familiar face from his days of Old Firm battles at Ibrox as a danger man tonight. “Thomas Buffel worked with me at Rangers and at Genk, and is a very good player,” says McLeish.
“He’s 35 years old now and he’s slightly built but he’s very light, and lively on his feet, is a very intelligent player and can score too.
“The striker Neeskens Kabano has taken a while to settle since moving from Charleroi but he’s starting to impress so this could be a big season and he could trouble Cork, while the full backs are very busy players.
“There may be weaknesses Cork could look for. It’s still a team in transition, and they’ve lost their best centre-half and leader, Christian Kabasele, a Belgian international, to Watford in the Premier League and he leaves a big gap so maybe they can exploit that.
“Timothy Castegne is a very good young right back but he’s struggling with injury so maybe that will suit Cork too.”
With the Belgians still in pre-season, McLeish believes City must try and use this to their advantage tonight.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re Barcelona: if you’re not fit and if your heads are not in the right place, a pub team can score against you. Celtic found that out (in Gibraltar),” he says.
“Cork City are in the middle of their season so fitness won’t be a problem. Genk have not started theirs yet so the legs won’t be quite right yet. They were lucky to get past Podgorica (on penalties) in the last round so Cork must make the most of this.”
McLeish managed Rangers to two titles during a five-year stint in the Ibrox hot-seat, and is relishing the return of the Old Firm to Scottish football.
“There’s a buzz up there again, it’s outstanding,” he says. “Mark Warburton has done a tremendous job at Rangers, Rangers have bought well in the summer but it’s very different up against Celtic.
“There’s nothing like the Old Firm, second is not an option for the fans up there. I think all the pressure is on Celtic and Brendan Rodgers; they’ve a tough Champions League draw against Astana, too, but I believe they’ll buy a few players in the transfer market before the season starts and obviously they’d have to be favourites.”
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