A guide to the Euro 2016 players who have crossed paths with the LOIThu, Jun 02 2016
With the expanded European Championship soon approaching, many players will be noticeable from appearing on television and laptop screens across the nation during their league campaigns in England, Spain and other countries across the continent.
However, others will be a memory from wet and windy European nights, some from years back, as League of Ireland clubs clashed with internationals in early stages of the Champions League, Europa League and during the days of the UEFA Cup and hopefully this will be a complete list of some familiar faces.
Back in August 2002, Shamrock Rovers were drawn to face Swedish side Djurgardens in the UEFA Cup qualifying rounds. Who would have thought, just under fourteen years later, goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson would be the no.1 goalkeeper for Sweden for this year’s Euros. He conceded just the one goal over the two legs with his side running out 5-1 winners on aggregate. Fellow future international Kim Källström scored his first European goal in the away leg.
Theódór Elmar Bjarnason came off the bench twice for KR Reykjavík in their Champions League qualifiers against Shelbourne in July 2004 and he will be representing Iceland as they compete in their inaugural European Championships. Shelbourne had a future international during that time too with Wes Hoolohan playing in both games as they went on to face Hajduk Split and Deporitvo La Coruna that year.
Djurgardens would come face-to-face with an Irish side three years after their other encounter when Cork City were drawn against them in the qualifiers for the 2005/06 UEFA Cup. This time they were knocked out by a Cork team starting John O’Flynn and Alan Bennett with Mark McNulty on the bench. Swedish born Kári Árnason came off the bench in both games and will now be representing Iceland this summer.
Cork went through to face Slavia Praha in the first round proper of the UEFA Cup and were knocked out by the Czech side containing current Czech international defender Marek Suchy as well as Slovakia’s goalkeeper Matús Kozácik and midfielder Dusan Svento.
It would be another three years before our next match noteworthy for Euro 2016 with Drogheda United reaching the second round of qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League in the summer of 2008. They were closely defeated by Ukrainian club Dynamo Kyiv, 4-3 on aggregate, who had current Stuttgart player Artem Kravets play in both games. Kravets was cut from the preliminary squad but his Ukraine teammate Roman Zozulya, who was an unused substitute for Drogheda’s away leg, made the final twenty-three.
St. Patrick’s Athletic also had a memorable year in that season’s UEFA Cup, reaching the first round of the competition before a 2-0 loss to Hertha Berlin saw their progression stopped. Swiss international Steve von Bergen was joined in the starting eleven by Polish defender Lukasz Piszczek.
The 2009/10 European campaigns saw League of Ireland clubs run into quite a few hopefuls for Euro 2016 appearances, with Dusan Svento popping up for Red Bull Salzburg this time alongside Austrian forward Marc Janko, who had his penalty saved in the first leg by Bohemians’ netminder Brian Murphy. The Austrian side would still progress in the Champions League by a slim margin of 2-1 on aggregate over Bohs.
The first season of the Europa League that same year saw Sligo Rovers disappointingly get knocked out by Albanian side Vllaznia Shkodër, with Bekim Balaj playing a part in both games. He has now been included in the Albania squad for their first ever European Championship. St. Patrick’s Athletic fared better as they defeated Russian side Krylya Sovetov, with Russian internationals Roman Shiskin and Oleg Ivanov starting, to reach the playoffs for the group stage.
They were drawn against Romanian side Steaua Bucuresti, who boasted one of Romania’s goalkeepers in Ciprian Tatarusanu as well as their joint-topscorer in the current side, Bogdan Stancu, who scored two goals off the bench in Romania to see the Saints just miss out on being the first League of Ireland side in the group stages of Europe.
The next two seasons saw Shamrock Rovers dominate the headlines in the Europa League as the 2010/11 season saw them come face-to-face with Juventus. With legendary strikers Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet making appearances, the Italians also featured Giorgio Chiellini alongside Leanardo Bonucci, who was making his competitive debut for the Bianconeri after signing from Bari.
Swedish midfielder Albin Ekdal also came off the bench for the Serie A side while Shamrock Rovers boasted a future Euro 2016 participant with Northern Ireland’s Alan Mannus between the sticks. Juventus came out on top with a 3-0 win on aggregate.
The next season saw Shamrock Rovers eliminated from the Champions League by Icelandic international Ragnar Sigurdsson’s FC Copenhagen and put into the playoffs for the Europa League group stage. After defeating Partizan Belgrade, they reached the Europa League Group Stage and faced future England internationals Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, and Harry Kane, with the latter scoring for Tottenham Hotspur in Tallaght Stadium. Croatian Vedran Corluka also played for Spurs while Portuguese international Vierinha played for PAOK FC and scored the winning goal against Rovers in Greece.
While not a League of Ireland fixture, Cliftonville’s first round qualifying match against Kalmar FF deserves honourable mention as Albania’s goalkeeper Ertit Berisha started the game and scored a penalty in added time to see the Swedish side through 4-1 on aggregate in the 2012/13 Europa League.
The 2013/14 season saw both Derry City and Drogheda United compete in the Europa League with the Drogs facing Malmö in the first round of qualifying. Euro 2016 bound Swedes in the side were Erik Johanssen, Pontus Jansson and Emil Forsberg, who scored the first goal in the home leg, as Drogheda were sent out early. Back-up goalkeeper for Sweden, Robin Olsen, was also an unused substitute in both games.
The Candystripes then faced Turkish side Trapzonspor in the second round of qualifying and were comprehensively beaten in both games by a side containing Turkey national team midfielder Volkan Sen and goalkeeper Onur Kivrak.
July 2014 saw Dundalk go up against Hajduk Split in the Europa League qualifiers and, although he didn’t play in those games, goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic has been included in Croatia’s squad for the European Championship. Polish player Tomasz Jodlowiec also played for Legia Warsaw in their Champions League ties against St. Patrick’s Athletic as both Irish teams went out of their respective competitions early.
This past season’s Europa League saw UCD take on Slovan Bratislava in the second round of qualifying. One Slovakian player scored against the Students with Kornel Saláta netting one in the away leg in Belfield. Goalkeeper Ján Mucha has also been included in Slovakia’s squad while striker Tamas Priskin is also France bound as he will be travelling with Hungary. Somewhat surprisingly, hat-trick scorer in Belfield, Róbert Vittek, has not been included in the Slovakian side despite being their top goalscorer in their international history.
So there we go, nine League of Ireland clubs managed to come up against teams containing thirty-six players who will be lining out for seventeen different nations at this month’s European Championships. To be honest though, that’s not all either. Former Derry City player Niall McGinn has been included in Northern Ireland’s squad while those who say mid-season friendlies are always against unglamorous opponents, just reply that a certain Dele Alli played for the MK Dons in a friendly against UCD in July 2013.