Amauri dents Hoops dreams
Rovers do League of Ireland proud but Old Lady's class proves decisive
A dreamy night without the fairytale ending. Reality had to rear its pragmatic head sometime.
The Shamrock Rovers hardcore weren't prepared to let the scoreline ruin their evening, with the sense of humour remaining sharp until the death.
When Alessandro del Piero was summoned as full-time approached, with his colleagues enjoying a comfortable two-goal advantage, the singing section produced a timely rendition of their old favourite, 'You'll never play for Rovers', a chant generally aimed at their less celebrated domestic rivals. They had to smile, for their club has been through enough to put any disappointment in context.
At full-time, the stadium announcer piped 'Que Sera' out over the airwaves, and the Hoops will go to Italy next week with pride at their team's achievements in earning this Europa League encounter.
On the pitch, however, they were delivered an unforgiving lesson by a Juve side determined to start their own form of rebuilding under new manager Luigi Delneri. They passed this test in routine enough fashion, save for a few hairy moments either side of the break.
Whatever happened, the Rovers fans were determined to revel in the moment. They took their time filtering into the stadium, yet there were few berths available when the teams emerged to a passionate speech from the PA announcer about how five years ago, the Hoops were on the verge of extinction. He then listed off some of their achievements in the interim period -- a story that should never be forgotten.
Much as this tie was depicted as trip for Juve into humble surrounds, the problem with Tallaght Stadium in living up to that role is that with a big, wide pitch and a pristine surface, it's actually quite welcoming for opposition teams.
It was painfully apparent for the hosts in the early stages, with the Serie A side spreading the ball around and using the space at their disposal. Rovers, despite deploying a five-man midfield, simply couldn't get any time on the ball. They were chasing air and were behind within three minutes, with striker Amauri playing a quick one-two and skipping into space, before clipping over the advancing Alan Mannus into the bottom corner.
Coming so early in the game, it was a worrying statement of intent, with silence enveloping the majority of the crowd, which couldn't quite be described as a sell-out due to the empty seats in the Juve section.
And while some tried to muster up song, there was a deathly hush at times in the 20 minutes that followed, with the superiority of the Old Lady obvious, as Brazilian playmaker Diego ran the show.
Perspective, of course, comes in the form of Diego's price tag, a hefty €24.5m, enough to buy this Rovers team around 245 times over. It was just a little too easy for the Italians, with Mohamed Sissoko and Italian international Claudio Marchisio strolling around.
As the break approached, O'Neill's charges found their bite and managed to finally make their guests uncomfortable. A cynical Simone Pepe foul on Chris Turner resulted in a yellow card and a bout of shoving in the centre circle which entertained the home faithful, with the ever fiery Robert Bayly in the middle of it all.
It was a briefly encouraging spell for the Hoops. They'd threatened earlier from a corner which Dan Murray failed to control properly and their best move of the match, a few minutes shy of the break, resulted in Thomas Stewart winning another corner. James Chambers' delivery was aimed for Aidan Price, whose header was deflected narrowly over the bar by Marco Motta.
Half-time was not too welcome then, but Rovers emerged with more of the same purpose, with their midfield far more competitive and the passing sharper.
Yet it was from a route-one approach that they forged a gilt-edged opportunity to restore parity. A long Chambers free was flicked on by Murray towards Stewart, who completed an elongated one-two with an accurate cross that the Englishman headed inches wide. So close.
But the Dubliners were in no position to talk about fortune a few minutes later when Amauri offered a sharp reminder of his prowess by shaking off Price and steaming away to beat Mannus in a similar style to the deadlock breaker, with the significant difference that this one bounced slowly onto the foot of the post and away to safety.
O'Neill brought on Billy Dennehy for Rice but the underdogs were struggling to keep up the intensity, with tiredness seeping into their play, particularly defensively, with sloppiness from Murray almost gifting a second to Juve. A heavy touch from Marchisio spared his blushes.
The concentration levels at the back were dipping, though, and the sickening aspect of the insurance goal was that it came from direct means.
Full-back Marco Motta, one of the new signings in black and white, lofted a deep delivery and Amauri leapt between Murray and Craig Sives to steer a header beyond the clutches of Mannus. This time, the post did him a favour.
Del Piero was sent into the fray, receiving a rapturous welcome and then ironic boos with his first touch. There was no evidence of Juve's legs tiring. They may be in pre-season, but match fitness is one thing -- their superior condition relative to opposition with numerous players from part-time backgrounds was there for all to see.
The bad news for Rovers is that the Old Lady stars will be a little bit sharper next week in Modena, and they've got another four players from the World Cup to add into the mix.
"You're always aware of the quality they can hit you with," admitted O'Neill.
Whatever will be, will be.
SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Mannus; Sives, Murray, Price, Stevens; Chambers (Kavanagh 76), Rice (Dennehy 66), Turner, Bayly (Bradley 90), Stewart; Twigg.
JUVENTUS -- Storari; Motta, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Ceglie; Lanzafame (Martinez 52), Sissoko, Marchisio (Ekdal 88), Pepe; Diego (Del Piero 82); Amauri.
REF -- D Fernandez Borbalan (Spain).