Football | Mixed fortunes for Irish clubs in Europe

It was a mixed week for the four League of Ireland teams in action in Europe.

Dundalk faced Riga FC at home in the first leg of their first round of Champions League qualifiers, with Shamrock Rovers, Cork City, and St. Patrick’s Athletic in action in the Europa League qualifiers.

Scoreless stalemate for Dundalk

On Tuesday night, Dundalk were held to a scoreless draw by Latvian champions Riga at Oriel Park.

The Lilywhites struggled to break down their stubborn opposition, despite dominating possession throughout.

Michael Duffy flashed an early chance over the bar, while the lively Joel Bopesu looked dangerous at the other end for the visitors on their rare forays forward in the first half.

Sean Hoare had arguably the best chance of the game in the 21st minute, but he directed his powerful header over the bar after Michael Duffy’s wicked corner.

A few minutes later, the Dundalk defender took an exquisite touch in the box before firing a left-footed volley wide.

Ojegs Laizans forced Gary Rodgers to tip a swerving strike around the post, but chances were at a premium for the away side in the opening 45 minutes.

Patrick Hoban squandered too half-chances before a clash of heads between Chris Shields and Daniel Cleary before half-time forced the former to be withdrawn at the interval.

Andy Boyle replaced Shields, moving into defence with Hoare pushing up to the base of midfield.

Dundalk were sloppy on the ball in the second half as they grew increasingly frustrated, and their creative players struggled to create clear-cut chances against the well organized Latvian champions.

Jamie McGrath showed great feet to dance past two Riga defenders just after the hour mark, but his effort on goal was comfortably saved.

Robbie Benson injected some pace and intensity into the Lilywhites’ midfield upon his introduction in the 58th minute, but a breakthrough remained elusive.

Riga broke well in the 75th minute, but Bopesu fluffed his lines after getting in behind Gannon; his shot flying wide of the near post.

Duffy’s sliced a powerful shot wide late in the game as Dundalk chased a goal, but both sides were forced to settle for a draw.

Vinny Perth’s men have it all to do in Latvia in the second leg.  

Late Lopes leveler for Rovers

Roberto Lopes turned from villain to hero as Shamrock Rovers rescued a 2-2 draw away to SK Brann.

The defender had an eventful evening to put it mildly in the Hoops’ Europa League qualifying first leg in Norway.

Brann took the lead in just the 12th minute, with Estonia international Taijo Teniste chesting the ball down and firing home a brilliant volley from 25 yards after the hosts’ first corner of the game.

Stephen Bradley’s visitors drew level in the 34th minute in fortuitous circumstances.

Lopes challenged for Jack Byrne’s dangerous free kick into the box, and did enough to force an inadvertent own goal off the knee of Brann’s Amer Ordagic.

However, Rovers’ 27-year-old defender conceded a penalty just two minutes later, fouling Veton Berisha after the latter’s cheeky nutmeg inside the area.

Berisha dusted himself down to restore the Norwegian side’s lead from the penalty spot, his powerful effort finding the corner despite Alan Mannus diving the right way.

The Brann attacker should have made it 3-1 early in the second half, but his chipped effort was gathered gratefully by Mannus after Lee Grace’s awful header back to his goalkeeper.

Aaron Greene fired straight at Hakon Opdal following Trevor Clarke’s cross in the 64th minute, but Rovers rescued a draw in stoppage time.

Lopes found the bottom corner with an excellent header from Byrne’s 90th-minute corner to put the tie firmly in Rovers’ favour.

The Hoops travel back to Tallaght level on aggregate with two away goals, and will fancy their chances in the second leg on home soil.

Home defeats for Cork and St. Pat’s

Cork City and St. Patrick’s Athletic are both on the brink of elimination following home defeats in their respective European qualifiers.

Both sides were beaten by two goals at home, and face huge uphill battles in their second legs.

Cork suffered a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Progrés Niederkorn at Turner’s Cross.

Belmin Muratovic and Mayron De Almeida (from the penalty spot) gave the Luxembourg outfit a two-goal advantage at the interval in Cork.

The visitors made the dream start, taking the lead in just the 10th minute.

Cork defender Colm Horgan delayed on the ball deep in his own half, and was pick-pocketed by Muratovic, who set himself up before smashing the ball past Mark McNulty.

The Leesiders had a penalty appeal waved away five minutes later when Joel Coustrain went down in the box.

Horgan – enduring a torrid Europa League debut – then conceded a penalty in the 20th minute for a foul on De Almeida.

De Almeida found the top corner with an excellent penalty to double Niederkorn’s advantage.

Cork were awarded a penalty of their own after Conor McCarthy was impeded in the box, but Karl Sheppard’s effort was deflected over the bar by goalkeeper Sebastian Flauss.

John Cotter’s hosts created few noteworthy chances in the second half as Niederkorn sealed a comfortable victory on away soil.

Cork’s miserable season goes on, and it will take a Herculean effort to turn this tie around in Norway.

St. Pat’s also suffered a 2-0 defeat against IFK Norrkoping at Richmond Park.

Harry Kenny’s men were outplayed by their Swedish opponents, and conceded two second half goals against the superior visitors.

However, St. Pat’s were denied a stonewall penalty four minutes later when Gary Shaw was blatantly fouled inside the area.

The referee was unmoved, much to the chagrin of the home faithful inside Richmond Park.

Brendan Clarke made a stunning save to deny Henrik Larsson’s son Jordan – top scorer in the Swedish league – a certain goal in the first half, and the lively attacker had two more chances before the interval.

It was level at the break, but Norrkoping made the breakthrough 10 minutes into the second half.

Simon Thern – son of former Sweden captain Jonas Thern – found the net with a good finish after being set up by Larsson.

Ian Bermingham forced Norrkoping ‘keeper Isak Pettersson into a good save as the Inchicore club chased an equalizer, with Larsson hitting the post at the other end. 

It was the visitors who grabbed the second goal of the game with five minutes remaining.

Desmond headed the ball into his own net following Larssen’s flick on, securing a 2-0 win for the Swedes.

Like Cork, St. Pat’s face a momentous task in the return leg.