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'The pressure is on Partizan'

SHAMROCK Rovers are 90 minutes away from one of the greatest nights in Irish club football.

Victory in Belgrade tonight against European aristocrats Partizan would earn the Hoops €1million in prize-money but more importantly a place in the group stages of the Europa League.

A spirited first-leg second-half display in Tallaght saw Michael O'Neill's men claw their way back into the tie when Gary McCabe's cool finish cancelled out Nemanja Tomic's opener and that performance suggests that Rovers can cause Partizan problems.

It's expected to be a sweltering 41 degrees celsius in the Serbian capital today but it should cool to a bearable 25 degrees by kick-off and 10,000 seats have already been snapped up with Partizan officials confident of a large crowd.

O'Neill believes his players will revel in the conditions and will go with a "nothing to lose" attitude.



Expected

"The atmosphere can help us. As an opposing player, it's nice to come and play in that situation," he said.

"Looking at the balance of the tie, the pressure is on Partizan. They did not expect to be here, they expected to be in the Champions League.

"So they are dealing with that disappointment right now.

"Now, they are in a tie which is finely balanced, and their own supporters will be demanding they progress.

"We have everything to gain as a club and as players and the atmosphere is something the players are going to relish."

The Hoops boss knows that his charges must take the chances that come their way while also being wary of the threat posed by the Serbian champions.

"This team (Partizan) has an awful lot of quality and I think we saw that in the early part of last week's game. We have to be ready to deal with that," he added. "Equally we know our own strengths and at the right times we will have to utilise them.

"I felt, looking back at the first leg, that we had lots of good opportunities, not just chances, but opportunities in the final third of the pitch, we have to be more clinical.

"If we can put the right quality of ball into the box we are capable of scoring goals."

Serbian playmaker Zvonomir Vukic returns for the hosts this week after missing last week's first leg and he will spearhead a midfield diamond formation behind Partizan's front two.



Damaged

Unfortunately for Rovers, they will be without holding midfielder Conor McCormack for tonight's clash after he damaged his medial ligament last week.

Stephen Rice is likely to take over McCormack's role in front of Rovers centre-halves and has the unenviable task of putting the shackles on Vukic.

Michael O'Neill has another big call to make with his formation. His preferred 4-5-1 with Gary Twigg playing as a lone striker has been successful in their European campaign so far but Rovers looked much more effective and dangerous last week when they switched to a 4-4-2 set-up.

Tonight's game will not be televised because no provider came forward with the cash to pay for the TV rights and eager fans have been forced to watch the crunch tie on the internet.


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