It is a step up in calibre of opposition for Shamrock Rovers this week as the Hoops take on a Mlada Boleslav from the Czech Republic in Tallaght Stadium on Thursday (kick-off 8pm).
The Hoops overcame Icelandic opposition in the Europa League first qualifying round (the Icelandic league is ranked 33rd) but now face a team from a league ranked 12th in Europe (compared with the League of Ireland at 36th).
However on the back of winning both legs of their last tie, the Hoops will bring confidence into a match against opponents who have yet to play a competitive game this season – the Czech HET Liga doesn’t begin until the last weekend of July.
The Shamrock Rovers Director of Football Stephen McPhail had memorable nights as a young player early in his career with Leeds United playing in Europe in the Champions League.
Speaking to shamrockrovers.ie ahead of the game, McPhail noted that: “there's a lot of young boys in the squad and they're special nights these European games. You don't get many of them throughout your career. So they've got to take that and try and use it as motivation to get through the next one and who knows where it can end up.”
Having won the first leg 1-0 in Reykjavik, last Thursday Tallaght Stadium witnessed an excellent Rovers performance as they deservedly beat Stjarnan 1-0 again on the night thanks to Graham Burke’s goal. That earned the Hoops a place in the second qualifying round plus a €225,000 boost to the club’s coffers.
"It was great (against Stjarnan), the way we did it as well and the manner in which we played and took the games to the Icelanders was impressive,” said McPhail. “It gives a great boost to everyone. We spoke about it after the game how big an achievement it was to win both legs and keep two clean sheets.
“Graham Burke coming back into the team for the European games after suspension makes a big difference. He's really calm and collected on the ball and makes some good decisions so the European game suits Graham quite well. He's a terrific player so hopefully he can have another good couple of games in the ones coming up.”
The record against Czech opposition for League of Ireland clubs isn’t good – six games and six defeats – but Mlada Boleslav only qualified for Europe from fourth place in the league and only thanks to Teplice conceding an injury time goal in the final game of the season.
“We got a couple of videos on Boleslav. They're a really good team, obviously a step from the Icelandic team in class. A physical team, not where they want to be physically themselves in pre-season. So hopefully we'll have a bit of an edge there.
“We'll respect them and try to take the game to them. We know how we're going to play. We feel we're that sort of team, whoever we play. Quite high energy, we like to press and our tempo is an important part of our game. We just hope the boys show that grit and determination to manage the game at the right times because over two legs is a difficult task.”
Having finished their pre-season training camp in Austria last week, Mlada Boleslav travelled to Dublin on Wednesday ahead of their game in Tallaght. In the last two seasons, the Czech club have been eliminated from Europe at the very first hurdle (to Norwegian and Macedonian opposition) and won’t want that to happen again for a third year in a row.
Like Rovers, they finished in fourth place in the league last season a good bit of the pace in their domestic league. They were 20 points behind the league winners Slavia Prague and eight points off Sparta Prague in third place.
Their manager Dusan Uhrin Junior is back at the club for his third spell in charge. His palmares includes stints managing in Romania, Cyprus, Georgia (where he won the double with Dinamo Tblisi) and most recently in Belarus in charge of Dinamo Minsk.
“I believe that we make a good result in Dublin," said Uhrin speaking to ceskenoviny.cz."We are under great pressure, expectations are great and we do not want to disappoint anybody. We've got had a very difficult opponent because the Irish are tough. They transition dangerously quick into attack.”
At Wednesday’s pre-match press conference Uhrin stressed that his team have come “to win” and according to his club’s website that his team “are good enough and confident. I believe that we are well ready. If we did not make it, it would be for me a great disappointment.”
Mlada Boleslav's home ground is a smaller capacity than Tallaght but they are unlikely to be overawed by the Dublin 24 venue. This is their fourth season in a row playing in Europe but their only victory on aggregate in that time came in their 2014 tie against Bosnian side Siroki Brijeg.
A decade ago the Czech team played in the group stages of the UEFA Cup and will look to get a good result to take home with them after Thursday as the seek to make the Europa League Group stages for the first time. The Third Round draw is set for Friday morning so both sides will know their opponent should they progress – with a play-off round still required after that for either side to make the group stages.
Referee: Bojan Pandzic (Sweden).
Rovers have played Czech Republic opposition just once before – losing 2-0 home and away to Slovan Liberec. Back in 1978, they took on Czechoslovakian side Banik Ostrava – losing 3-1 away and 3-0 at home.
Shamrock Rovers are unbeaten in competitive action across the last 11 games in Tallaght Stadium since mid-March. Rovers have only failed to score once at home this season.
The club have won three of the nine European games played at home since moving to Tallaght - last week’s win over Stjarnan, the 3-0 win over Progres Niederkorn in 2015 and the 1-0 in over Flora Tallinn in 2011.
Having waited 60 years for a Swedish referee to officiate a European Rovers game, the Hoops will have a Swedish referee in charge for the second time in a week. Bojan Pandzic has handed out four reds cards in the ten Allsvenskan matches he has officiated in Sweden this season. This is his fourth season refereeing in the Europa League qualifying stages.
Shamrock Rovers 10/3; Draw 12/5; Mlada Boleslav 8/11.
Shamrock Rovers 1 – 1 Mlada Boleslav
Injured: Paul Corry.
Doubtful: Jan Kysela.