However can the fans expect the game to change overnight? Realistically, it’s going to take some time to go from the preferred long ball to the beautiful game.
Soccer Scene will see for ourselves how much the league has improved by taking in a couple of Eircom games soon. After all, seeing is believing.
As for Europe, the experts have also argued that because the Irish teams are together earlier, it has improved their chances of moving on.
Things were looking very sweet and sunny indeed when Bohemians beat Belgium outfit Ghent 1-0 in a first leg of the Intertoto Cup. It was all smiles as the Gypsies traveled with an excellent advantage. Although within 18 seconds Ghent wiped the smiles off of Irish faces when Mbark Boussoufa struck a composed effort home from the edge of the box. The Bohs defense got it all wrong entering the game. It seemed the contest was over when in the 10th minute it was obvious Bohs were not defending their box. Once again from the edge of the 18-yard area Ghent’s unmarked Yngvar Hakonsen hit a brilliant volley into the back of the net. It had winner written all over it. Nonetheless Bohs dug in and tried to get more organized in defense. But they needed a goal. At 2-0 down the game was by no means over. And the half time talk was more than welcome.
Within 15 minutes of the second-half whistle Ghent scored. And yet again, Bohs were unable to clear the ball from their box after an opposing corner. Ironic isn’t it that the Irish team were punished for not clearing the ball long enough?
The Irish didn’t drop their heads. With 15 minutes to go Des Byrne managed to help the ball over the line. The final stages were somewhat nerve wracking for the Belgians who had looked in control for so long. But in a home and an away fixture a European game can flip and change on the away gone rule. Bohs were close but not close enough, being beaten 3-2 on aggregate. The sun didn’t shine in Belgium for the Gypsies. The theory that summer football will enhance Irish chances in at least the Intertoto Cup is on ice.
In the UEFA Cup, Longford Town will represent Eircom. The Town, at home, has a real chance here as they face a Welsh League club called Carmarthen on July 14. Longford has become somewhat adept in playing for 90 minutes and thus managing to get results. They will make it very tough for the Welsh in Ireland. And Carmarthen can also expect a defensive ploy by Longford when they travel to Wales.
Longford will have learned from the Bohs defeat that defending your box with intense marking is a must in European football. The Town has got to believe they have as good a chance as Carmarthen to move on in UEFA. However, a Longford win may not be necessarily based on an Irish team improving under the sun. It may be based on sheer guts and determination in defense.
Also playing in the UEFA for the Irish are Cork who are up against a horse of a different color. The unpredictable and skillful Lithuanian club Ekranes are currently a strong force in their domestic league. Cork is away in the first leg and a goal on the road would make this a very interesting contest for the return leg on July 28th.
A recent 0-0 game between Cork and Longford was scrutinized by Carmarthen and Ekranes scouts. Longford were at it again. It seemed all luck that they held out but defend they did to the bitter end. Carmarthen will know that to get on top of Longford they will have to be patient. Not such an easy strategy in this day and age of a very fast game. The evidence is clear that Longford are working to stay compact and if they counter, that’s great. If not, they must concentrate with the task of keeping a clean sheet.
Ekranes scouting may be a bit different. They will know that Cork can get forward but do not have a prolific goal scorer. Nevertheless Longford frustrated the hell out of Cork who ran out of ideas in the end. Ekranes will be favorites to win the first leg in Lithuania. However Cork can be very stubborn defenders when they want to be. This was not evident in the Longford game. The Lithuanians may have to do some more homework to see Cork under more pressure. That is not happening a lot these days against Cork in the Eircom League, losing only once in 14 games.
A significant move right behind the league leaders is Shelbourne slipping in to second spot past Derry City. It’s been a slow start for Shels, the defending Eircom champions. Their recent 4-2 win over Waterford United was a long time coming. It was Shelbourne’s first win in six games and a hard-fought result they desperately needed. It was paramount that Shels get back to winning ways before their Champions League game with Glentoran.
Should Shels win we may not be able to say that Eircom teams are improving in Europe. But this game could tell us something on a domestic level given than Glentoran do not play a summer season. Shels are only a hop skip and jump away from the Oval in Belfast. The Reds should have an edge of quickness and game time in this much-anticipated Irish derby.
Yes it’s CL but is it a true measure of European football? Bet Glentoran and Shels will tell you it is. Longford, playing unfancied Carmarthen in the UEFA Cup, is still very much the smallest of platforms to measure improvement in Europe. While there is huge interest in the Irish derby, the real Euro game and the real test lies with the Cork vs. Ekranes match. Should Cork win this one we could safely say soccer in the sun is helping the Irish in Europe. As for Shels and Longford, it’s their next game in Europe we are more interested in, providing of course that they beat the Belfast and Welsh outfits.