Huge pressure on Legia Warsaw to finally hit big time
The opportunity of a lifetime for Dundalk is being viewed in Poland as the perfect chance for Legia Warsaw to end a 21-year wait for progression to the group stages of the Champions League.
That will bring its own pressure for a formidable outfit with a storied history. Legia are 11-time champions of Poland and have claimed the title in three of the past four seasons.
In the old football world, they reached a European Cup semi-final in 1970 and the last four of the Cup Winners Cup in 1991 when they lost out to Manchester United.
Since the birth of the Champions League, they have made just one foray to the group stages. That came in 1995/96 where they emerged from a pool containing Blackburn Rovers before losing to Panathinaikos in the quarter-finals.
Two years ago, when managed by Henning Berg, it looked like they had the momentum to have a run in the in the Europa League after swatting aside St Patrick's Athletic before a 6-1 dismantling of Celtic put them into the final qualifier.
However, their ambitions were ended when they were disqualified after it emerged that late substitute Bartosz Bereszynski should not have played because he was suspended.
Legia are now managed by Kosovo-Albanian Besnik Hasi who was sacked by Anderlecht at the end of last season. He replaced Russian Stanislav Cherchesov, who was shown the door despite delivering the Polish title during a short stint.
The current crop have failed to impress in the first two rounds of the Champions League qualifiers.
They risked disaster against Trencin, with goalkeeper Arkadiusz Malarz a pivotal figure in the scoreless second leg in Warsaw.
Dawid Michalski, the editor of Eurosport Poland, gives Dundalk a great chance. "There are many changes between 2014 and now. Different players, different coach, a different style of play and personally I think they are a bit weaker. I don't think that Legia is a big favourite in this match," he said.
In terms of resources, it is a mismatch, though. Legia have an average attendance in excess of 16,000 and the spending power to recruit from around the continent. They have just completed a deal for Norwich's Belgian midfielder Vadis Odjidja after selling Ondrej Duda to Hertha Berlin for €4m. Duda was bought for €300,000.
Legia are still finding their feet this season. Tomorrow's league game against Piast Gliwice , which Stephen Kenny will attend, will be their fourth domestic game of the campaign. In their first match, they came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and have drawn their two subsequent matches.
Nemanjo Nikolic, their star performer, was a member of the Hungarian squad at Euro 2016 (defenders Michal Pazdan and Tomasz Jodlowiec were in the Polish panel) and the striker is reportedly a transfer target for Porto. He scored 28 goals last term and Warsaw could cash in if presented with a big money offer.
However, Legia believe that a serious jackpot is within their grasp if they perform to their potential against Dundalk.
The meeting of the lowest ranked seeded and unseeded teams should be an intriguing affair.
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