Cork City, Genk, and the nearby provincial town of Hasselt, have all been devastated by the closure of Ford motor company plants over the years, but tonight at Genk’s new 25,000-capacity Luminus Arena, John Caulfield will be hoping to keep his Europa League dream motoring along for another week, at least.
This is the first time in the club’s 32-year history they have made it to a third round qualifier after wins over Linfield and BK Hacken but tonight’s opposition have real quality.
Genk will field eight full internationals in their ranks and have a good home record, though they are just wrapping up their pre-season and kick-off the Belgian Pro league season against Oostend on Sunday.
But City travel without fear. They have suffered just one defeat in their last 22 matches, they have kept 17 clean sheets in those games and in Caulfield’s six European ties to date, they have set a club record by scoring in each of their six European fixtures, going back to KR Reykjavik in Iceland this time last year.
Cork are unbeaten in their last 12 matches in all competitions and it is these statistics that give Caulfield and his troops reason for hope in Belgium.
“The fact this is our third European tie, the lads are used to the routine and the preparation but having seen the Genk stadium again at training last night, we are under no illusions about the task facing us,” Caulfield said.
“Genk are a bigger club than Hacken and we expect more intensity in the game here. They have some very good players and they look to be a more powerful team than we played last week.
“They are a strong, physical side packed with internationals so we know it could be a backs-to-the-wall night for us.”
Caulfield has a positive update on the fitness of Greg Bolger, who has been struggling with an ankle complaint.
“Greg Bolger looks fine and I think he will make it. And that’s a big plus for us on a night like this. Genk are at a different level, to be fair, and well used to playing in the Europa League and the Champions’ League.
“It’s a unique occasion for us though and all the lads have bought into it. We have an honest bunch of players, we have a great team spirit and they give everything on the park and that’s all we can ask for tonight,” added Caulfield, who has four players — Kenny Browne, Steven Beattie, Garry Buckley and skipper Bolger — on yellow cards and just one booking away from missing the return leg at Turner’s Cross next Thursday.
“We will be up against it here and on the back foot. Genk will dominate the ball and our game plan has got to be to keep it tight, try and contain them and hit them on the counter, and we have the pace in the team to do it.
“The underdog always has a chance and we proved that against the Swedish Cup champions BK Hacken but tonight I think we’d need Genk to have an off-night.
“A 1-0 away deficit would not be a bad result for us, but listen, I am optimistic and positive and we have prepared well.
“Genk’s home record is very good, but having the first leg away from home, has been kind to us so far and hopefully we will keep the tie alive and bring it back to Cork on a knife-edge.”
A night for the underdog in Genk? “Only time will tell but I do hope this European adventure will act as a springboard for the lads and drive us on in our quest for domestic honours.”
Genk’s Spanish midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo has been passed fit to play along with skipper and right winger Thomas Buffel and Dries Wouters. Dutchman Sandy Walsh comes in at right-back for the injured Timothy Castagne.
Genk met Chelsea, Valencia, and Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions’ League four years ago but did not win a game, losing all three away games, however they were unbeaten at home, drawing all three of their games.
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