Roche hopes Rovers can catch Partizancold in Euro clash
COULD have been better, could have been worse. That was the verdict from the Shamrock Rovers camp after they drew Partizan Belgrade in the final round of Europa League qualifying.
The Hoops were parachuted into the play-off stage of Europe's second competition after their Champions League exit to Copenhagen on Tuesday and there were lucrative possibilities with Spurs and Celtic among the possible opponents.
They were ruled out of the equation early yesterday morning in Switzerland, however, when the competing clubs were divided into pots and the five seeded opponents available to Rovers were Atletico Madrid, Panathinaikos, Besitkas, Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv and Partizan.
From that selection, Atletico were the clear stand-out from a financial and logistical point of view. However, after missing out on the Spanish club, a date with the Serbian giants was well received by Shamrock Rovers chairman Jonathan Roche.
Being at home first will ensure a good gate in Tallaght and Rovers feel they could catch Partizan cold at an early stage in their campaign.
"Partizan's league doesn't start until next week and they were knocked out of the Champions League at the same stage as us," said Roche. "Partizan is fine with us, we are happy enough as it will be another full house in Tallaght against a top European team."
Partizan were surprisingly eliminated from the Champions League by Belgian champions Racing Genk. Partizan reached the group stages of the competition last season.
The 23 times national champions are enjoying a period of dominance over their rivals, Red Star Belgrade, and are aiming for a fifth successive title win in this campaign. Over the summer, they sold defender Stefan Savic to Manchester City for £6m.
Rovers face a stiff task to become the first Irish team to qualify for the group stages of European competition and will encounter an intimidating atmosphere in the second leg.
Partizan have a fanatical support, particularly a hardcore group known as the 'Gravediggers'. Two years ago, a visiting Toulouse fan died after being attacked by a group of Partizan hooligans before a Europa League tie. And in 2007/'08, Partizan were thrown out of the UEFA Cup after a group of followers caused chaos on a trip to face Bosnian side Zrinjski Mostar.
Rovers will be hoping for a smoother experience. The first leg will be in Tallaght on August 18, with the return in Belgrade seven days later.
Europa League play-off draw
Maccabi Tel Aviv v Panathinaikos; Atletico Madrid v Vitoria Guimaraes; Shamrock Rovers v Partizan Belgrade; Metalist Kharkiv v FC Sochaux; Besiktas v Alania Vladikavkaz; Rosenborg v AEK Larnaca; Vorskla Poltava v Dinamo Bucharest ; Bursaspor v Anderlecht; AS Roma v Slovan Bratislava; Olimpiakos Volos v Paris St Germain; Legia Warsaw v Spartak Moscow; Ekranas v Hapoel Tel Aviv; PAOK Salonika v Karpaty Lviv; Trabzonspor v Athletic Bilbao; Hearts v Tottenham; Maribor v Rangers; Steaua Bucharest v CSKA Sofia; Nordsjaelland v Sporting Lisbon; Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk v Fulham; Lokomotiv Moscow v Spartak Trnava; Sion v Celtic; Slask Wroclaw v Rapid Bucharest; Litex Lovech v Dynamo Kiev; Lazio v Rabotnicki; Nacional Madeira v Birmingham City; PSV Eindhoven v Ried; FC Thun v Stoke City; Aalesunds v AZ Alkmaar; Vaslui v Sparta Prague; Omonia v Salzburg; Zestafoni v Bruges; Hanover 96 v Sevilla; HJK Helsinki v Schalke 04; Dinamo Tblisi v AEK Athens; Stade Rennes v Red Star Belgrade; Gaz Metan Medias v Austria Vienna; Braga v Young Boys; Standard Liege v Helsingborgs.
*Ties to be played on Aug 18 & 25.
Champions League play-off draw
Wisla Krakow v APOEL; Maccabi Haifa v Genk; Dinamo Zagreb v Malmo; FC Copenhagen v Viktoria Plzen; BATE Borisov v Sturm Graz; Odense v Villarreal; Twente v Benfica; Arsenal v Udinese; Bayern Munich v FC Zurich; Olympique Lyon v Rubin Kazan.
*Ties to be played on Aug 16-17 & Aug 23-24