Friday, August 26, 2011

Shamrock Rovers cap off a night of Europa League drama

Few would have blamed Pat Sullivan for being happy with his League of Ireland winners' medal and three Setanta Cups in his career. At 28, it’s fair to say that the tap on the shoulder from a scout from Merseyside or Glasgow is not forthcoming. But on Thursday the 25th August at Stadion FK Partizan, he hit a long range screamer to put the Serbian giants Partizan Belgrade out of the Europa League at the Play Off stage and more importantly, Shamrock Rovers into the Group Stages.

I’m exaggerating slightly. In fact it was Stephen O'Donnell's extra time penalty that did for the Belgrade club. But it was Sullivan’s thunderbolt which prolonged the tie after Partizan had gone ahead with a goal from Vladimir Volkov. Rice’s spot kick eliminated a team that was playing Arsenal in the Champions League, only last year. This was an astonishing result and means that, according to the ever succinct OptaJoe "Shamrock Rovers are set to become the first Irish team to play a European match in December since Shelbourne in 1964."

The result rounded off a grim night for Serbian football. Partizan’s City rivals, Red Star Belgrade, were seen off by Ligue 1 side Stade Rennes 6-1 on aggregate. However, if any football nation has cause to think carefully about what it has done, it is Scotland.

Celtic’s record in Europe is a proud one. However, they travelled to Switzerland to play FC Sion with nothing but a 0-0 home draw to take with them. They lost 3-1 with goals from Pascal Feindouno and Giovanni Sio. Rangers fared no better after only managing a 1-1 draw at home to the Slovenians of Maribor, losing out 3-2 on aggregate. With Hearts dead and buried in the first leg against Tottenham Hotspur that’s Scotland out of all European competition before it has really had a chance to get going.

There were some other notable upsets. Serie A giants Roma were knocked out by a glorious strike from Peter Stepanovsky of Slovan Bratislava. That goal cancelled out Simone Perrotta’s opener and meant that the Slovaks won 2-1 over the two legs. The 2006 and 2007 UEFA Cup winners Sevilla were also eliminated in a tense 1-1 draw with Bundesliga club, Hannover 96.

The Germans have only ever played once before in a European competition and that was against Werder Bremen, of all teams. They took a nervous 2-1 lead to Spain but managed to negotiate their way through to the Group Stage.

Comeback of the round goes to Hannover’s fellow Bundesliga club, Schalke 04 who had to turn around a 2-0 deficit at the Arena Auf Schalke against HJK Helsinki. They did so with style. 6-1 was the final score. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored four on the night.

All the English clubs are through including Birmingham City which means that a Championship club will be playing in the Europa League. Spartak Moscow did not make it. A last minute Janusz Gol goal saw Legia Warsaw through 5-4 on aggregate.

Finally, the holders, Atletico Madrid had no problem against the Portuguese Vitória Guimarães, winning 6-0 over two legs.

So the teams have been decided. Now all that is left is the draw which takes place on 26th August. The matches kick off on 15 September.

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