The Czech outfit were back training for a couple of weeks before their 2-0 home victory in the first leg against Rovers. A win here for the Hoops will definitely prove that summer football does help Eircom League teams when it comes to playing with the big boys from Europe. But within 21 minutes the determined Czechs had scored their two goals. For Liberec not making the Champions League or the UEFA Cup is considered a failure; not to finish Rovers off could be seen as a catastrophe. The Rovers are up against it, and they know it. It’s not just the fact that Liberec has been training and that they have quality players, the Czechs have also done their homework on the Irish. Evidence of their scouting for Rovers first-round triumph over Odra Wodzislaw was found in a all-embracing analysis left behind, oops, on the Inchicore premises. Luckily enough for those scouts, Liberec won the first leg.
Despite the insights gained from such paperwork, that’s all it is, just paper. It’s the experience and ability of the Liberec players that Rovers have to contend with at the end of the day. Additions like internationals Karol Kisel and Michel Pospisil give the Czechs an extra edge to a team beaten last season on the away-goal rule by CL Champions AC Milan. The difference in technical ability, specifically first touch and passing, sees Rovers somewhat behind Liberec.
In the early stages of the game, Rovers’ Stephen Grant found both techniques were indeed the culprit in stopping his team getting that all-important away goal. Within the first 10 minutes a penetrating pass by Rovers was just short to reach exactly where Grant needed it. Then that first touch to get the shot off saw Grant letting Liberec take a deep breath of relief. Rovers did threaten when Grant came close enough after stealing the ball away from a defender. Then in the 34th minute, Glenn Fitzpatrick missed a glorious opportunity for the Hoops when his shot went straight at Liberec’s goalkeeper. No doubt Rovers had their chances and they will expect to score first next Sunday. Indeed, that’s a must for the them to have any realistic chance of staying in the tournament.
While Rovers manager Liam Buckley knows that playing soccer in the sun was an advantage over the Poles in the first round he is “hopeful” it will be the same on Sunday. He’s under no illusions and knows his side faces a top team. For Buckley, a narrow defeat would have been a positive result to bring back from Liberec, that narrow defeat meant 1-0 or perhaps 2-1. But a 2-0 deficit doesn’t cut it. The Czechs will most certainly arrive with a defensive game plan and will have a strategy to score from that guarding shape. But overall to say that summer football is going to make a difference for Irish teams in Europe. Gloria beat Bangor 6-2 and Omagh were slaughtered 8-1 by Shakhtyor.
It might be a shrewder spin on soccer matters for Eircom supporters to predict that the game is improving on home soil rather than mainland Europe. While the league cup unfolds to the final stages Shelbourne slowly but surely inch away from the pack. The Reds are now six points ahead of Cork City who are finding some good fluency in their play. However, City must produce two or three consecutive league wins to keep Shels honest. That’s going to happen this Friday when Shels meet St. Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park. With Cork on cup duty the southerners depend very much on St. Pat’s to stop Shels widening the gap at the top of the premier table. It’s still early days in the premier and the most intriguing story for now is the progress of Waterford United as they hold onto 5th place.
As for the first division this is where things are really heating up under the sun in the Eircom League. Finn Harps, Bray Wanderers, Dublin City and Kildare County are now the teams to watch as they’ve opened a 4-point lead over the pack. With less games to play than in the premier, the first division has picked up the pace as title contenders begin to shine.
Sticking with the domestic scene off the field, Eircom business has by no means become slack. Aidan Doyle was appointed marketing manager for the league while Andy Needham is the new media and public relations officer. Yes, it’s all business back in the old turf. League general manager Tommy Allen announced: “Marketing and communications are key factors in the success of any business and the business of soccer is no exception. We are confident that the appointment of experienced professionals in these two key positions will make a significant contribution to the continuing growth and development of the Eircom League.”
Real Madrid continue to get under Manchester United’s skin as the Spanish giants now look set to grab Brazilian Ronaldinho after signing David Beckham and luring Carlos Queiroz to the Bernabeu. Ronaldinho’s agent and brother, Roberto Assis, put it in a nutshell when he said: “What footballer wouldn’t love to play for Real? All the superstars play for them.”
Guess the same goes for managers and coaches. As United moved on last season it was clear that Coach Queiroz was getting it right — in particular, the spacing of players between their positions. The Red Devils looked more and more defined towards the end of the year and that was without Roy Keane. United will need his presence next term providing the Corkman can avoid injury. As for Real Madrid, injury may be the only way a superstar can get into the starting 11.