Rebels' spirit not enough as classy Legia march on
Legia Warsaw 3 Cork City 0 (Legia win 4-0 on aggregate)
The team who play at the Polish Army Stadium soldier on to the next stage of the Champions League as Cork City exit the competition, no complaints from the Irish visitors who tried, but struggled, to keep pace with a far superior side.
Beating Legia Warsaw on Polish soil has been beyond the capability of clubs like Real Madrid and Ajax in the last number of years so if ever there was a mission impossible for an Irish club in Europe, John Caulfield's side faced it last night, needing to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the home leg to advance.
In that first leg one goal was enough for Legia but they treated their fans in a crowd of 14,576 to three last night, Jose Kante with the first midway through the second half, a second from the penalty spot from classy Serbian attacker Miroslav Radovic and a final blow for Cork two minutes from time, scored by Spanish forward Carlitos.
"We are disappointed because over two games were Legia the better team? Yes. But we had quite a number of chances to score It is disappointing that we didn't," said City boss Caulfield.
"When you go against teams that are better technically and big clubs like Legia, you have to take your chances when you get them. They dominated possession, we didn't score at home and that was disappointing."
Of course the European adventure is not over for Cork as they now go through the back door of the Europa League, skipping the second round stage with a bye into the third qualifying round.
A Cork win here was never really going to happen. Legia Warsaw don't lose at home to clubs like Cork City, and the Polish giants have been beaten just once in their last 12 home games in Europe, that one loss a 6-0 thumping by Borussia Dortmund in the group stages of the Champions League.
A 3-0 loss on the night, a 4-0 defeat on aggregate, shows that on the field of play, the gulf between the two sides exists.
But a trip to play an outfit like Legia also shows how far behind Irish clubs are off the field of play, Legia's shiny new stadium light years away from Cork's humble Turner's Cross home, playing in a league where 20pc of the clubs in the Premier Division this season have had serious problems in paying wages, though Polish football is not perfection, evidenced here last night as Legia were ordered by UEFA to close one of their stands due to recent crowd trouble.
Cork were in the game, though maybe not the tie, for a spell. Caulfield had said before the game his initial hope was to get to the 30-minute mark without conceding.
As it happened, the goal came for Legia just short of Caulfield's target. On 28 minutes. City had, however, enjoyed a bit of early possession, Conor McCormack's ball into Graham Cummins on five minutes requiring some work from goalkeeper Arkadiusz Malarz and Barry McNamee's dead balls posed a threat.
Legia were being patient and got their breakthrough: Mateusz Wieteska sent in a tasty-looking ball for Cafu, his flick fell just perfectly for Jose Kante and the Guinea international volleyed home.
Cork tried an immediate response, Karl Sheppard sending a shot just over the crossbar while at the other end, William Remy forced a save from Cork's Scottish-born 'keeper Peter Cherrie.
With a 2-0 aggregate lead at half-time, it was a case of job done for Legia but they were guilty of slack play at times. A poor back pass from William Remy put Malarz under pressure and that gifted an opening to Sheppard but the hard-working Dubliner was unable to make the effort count.
Legia snapped out of it and Cherrie was beaten again on 72 minutes. Conor McCormack could not complain when the Norwegian referee awarded a penalty for his foul on Radovic and the winger stepped to successfully take the kick, and sub Carlitos rubbed salt in the wound with a nice finish two minutes from time, Legia looking like a side capable of dining at the Champions League table while Cork prepare for a diet of Europa League football.
Legia Warsaw - Malarz; Wieteska (Antolic 69), Astiz, Remy; Vesovic, Nagy, Maczynski, Cafu, Kucharczyk (Hlousek 46); Radovic, Kante (Carlitos 63).
Cork City - Cherrie; Beattie (Kane 78), Delaney, McLoughlin, Griffin; McCormack, Keohane; McNamee (O'Hanlon 78), Buckley (Sadlier 78), Sheppard; Cummins.
Ref - K Steen (Norway)