It’s been a long time coming, much longer than the two weeks since Stephen O’Donnell’s penalty hit he net against Partizan Belgrade but the wait is finally over as European football proper comes to Ireland.
Michael O’Neill and Shamrock Rovers have managed to take Irish football in to uncharted territory after so many before them fell at the final hurdles.
The likes of Gary Twigg, Ronan Finn, Enda Stevens and the other heroes of Belgrade will get to show their skills on the European stage while O’Neill and assistant Jim Magilton will too get to flex their managerial muscles against a European powerhouse.
Having masterminded the downfall of supposedly superior opposition last year and en route to the group stages the Northern Irish pair will get to show their capabailities in less fraught circumstances – Thursday night should serve as a celebration of their achievements more than a true test of their abilities.
Rubin Kazan made the group stages of the Champions League the last two seasons, even beating Barcelona at the Nou Camp in 2009.
The Russians play a physical game, defending in numbers and hitting teams on the counter attack and unlike Partizan and FC Copenhagen who seemed to underestimate Rovers in the qualifying rounds.
in his ten years at the club Rubin coach Kurban Berdyev has developed a reputation as a meticulous manager who leaves little to chance , despite his penchant for holding rosary beads in the dugout.
Club captain Roman Sharonov has said of his boss that: “He has football in his mind 24 hours a day. If I thought about football that much I would probably lose my mind.”
The Hoops’ preparations though have been far from ideal, Rubin’s visit will be their third game in six days and on Monday, Rovers looked visibly tired as they let a one goal lead slip in the draw with St. Pat’s.
O’Neill’s men though have shown that they are nothing if not fighters in Europe this year and with the atmosphere in Tallaght sure to electric and the pressure off, Rovers will be keen to show why they are worthy of their place here.
Conor McCormack is likely to start for the Hoops after returning from injury to play the full 90 against Pat’s and having proved influential in their continental exploits so far but Ken Oman and Dean Kelly remain sidelined.
Ones to watch
The Ecuadorian midfielder is central to Rubin’s play and will dictate the pace of play if the Rovers’ midfield give him too much time on the ball, he will also be able to exploit the Dubliners’ weakness around set-pieces as he can deliver a good ball from any area
An experienced attacking midfielder who scored the winning goal against Barcelona, Rovers will need to keep a keen eye on him as his movement and ability to get behind the defence will be crucial to Rubin’s attack
The Argentine international impressed at left-back in Rubin’s champions league travails, like all at Rubin he is solid in his defensive duties but equally capable going forward and will be handful for the Rovers’ wingers as he likes to push forward when in possession