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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 19 June, 2018
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Cork City bidding to upset a side featuring a couple of players Ireland fans may remember

Turner’s Cross plays host to Europa League football again tonight.

THE MARGIN FOR error will be slim if Cork City are to progress to the next stage of the Europa League qualifying rounds.

That’s the message from manager John Caulfield ahead of tonight’s visit of AEK Larnaca to Turner’s Cross for the first leg of their second round tie (7.45pm, live on eir Sport).

John Caulfield Cork City manager John Caulfield celebrates with Achille Campion after the second leg against Levadia Tallinn. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

City progressed to this stage thanks to a 6-2 aggregate victory over Estonian outfit Levadia Tallinn, while their Cypriot opponents won 6-1 over two legs against Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar.

Larnaca have travelled with a strong squad, which features several players with experience of the Spanish top flight as well as senior internationals from Cyprus, Montenegro and Macedonia — two of whom Irish football fans may be familiar with.

City will need to overcome Larnaca if they’re to match their achievements of last season by reaching the Europa League’s third qualifying round. After victories over Linfield and BK Hacken, Caulfield’s side eventually came up short against KRC Genk.

The current SSE Airtricity League Premier Division leaders squandered their goalscoring opportunities away from home in a 1-0 defeat, before the Belgian side won 2-1 at Turner’s Cross a week later. Caulfield wants the lessons City took from a competitive tie against the eventual quarter-finalists to stand to them against Larnaca.

“You’d hope that the players would learn that when they play on top form they’re an exceptionally good team. But at the same time, if you don’t take your chances in games like that it can cost you,” he said.

“When you’re playing a team like that you don’t get many chances, as we saw last year. But we had a couple of chances to equalise out there, which we didn’t take, and then we were on the back foot. This game is a bit different because we’re at home first.

“But at the same time, the lads have seen that when you’re up against teams that are better than you or have more talented players that can play at a higher level, you just need to make sure that you’re fully switched on and that you don’t switch off. You let one runner go and the ball is in the back of the net. We saw that against Genk last year.”

Glenn Whelan and Ivan Trickovski Macedonian winger Ivan Trickovski is one of AEK Larnaca's main threats. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Injured duo Johnny Dunleavy and John Kavanagh are still sidelined for City, while veteran defender Alan Bennett could be fit enough to return but a decision on his involvement won’t be made until shortly before kick-off.

Tonight’s first leg also marks the final home game for City’s Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor, who’ll both join Preston North End after the second leg in Cyprus in seven days’ time. New signing Kieran Sadlier is also eligible to make his European debut, having played in Sunday’s win against St Patrick’s Athletic after sealing his transfer from Sligo Rovers.

Should Bennett miss out, midfielder Conor McCormack is likely to resume his role as a temporary partner for Ryan Delaney at the centre of defence. Despite making an impressive full league debut against Pat’s, Caulfield is unlikely to risk 19-year-old centre-half Conor McCarthy from the start.

Coincidentally, the last time Cork City progressed after playing the first leg of a European tie at home was at the expense of Cypriot side Apollon Limassol in 2006. After a Billy Woods goal gave City a 1-0 win at Turner’s Cross, Dan Murray scored a crucial equaliser away from home in a 1-1 draw in the second leg of a Champions League first round qualifier.

Caulfield knows that avoiding the concession of away goals while simultaneously offering a threat going forward will be crucial tonight, as his team look to ensure that they’re still in the contest when they head to the 7,500-capacity AEK Arena next Thursday, where the game is likely to be played in temperatures of approximately 32 degrees celsius.

“We have to work on what we feel are our strengths as well,” he said. “We have to work on areas where we think we can cause them trouble. Otherwise you’re just going to sit back for the whole game and then you’ve no chance of winning.

“At the end of the day, we still feel that we can bring the tie to Cyprus and have a chance. But we know that if we come out of [tonight's] match and we lose the game, you’re gone. If you start conceding goals, you’re gone.

Cork City's Billy Woods celebrates Billy Woods celebrates after scoring for Cork City against Apollon Limassol in 2006. Source: ©INPHO

“We know we have to be disciplined but they’re a brilliant bunch of guys. They’re brilliant lads, they’re well tuned in and they’re exceptionally good footballers. You just hope that with all the European football over the last couple of years, that they’ve learned from it, which I’m sure they have.”

Like Cork City, AEK Larnaca have had to settle for second place in their domestic league in recent seasons, finishing behind APOEL Nicosia in each of the last two campaigns. However, one of this team’s biggest results came in the Europa League last year.

After eliminating Folgore (San Marino, 6-1) and Cliftonville (Northern Ireland, 5-2), they were 2-1 aggregate winners against Russian giants Spartak Moscow. They ultimately missed out on a place in the group stages by losing 4-0 over two legs to Slovan Liberec (Czech Republic).

Larnaca arrived in Cork on Tuesday without former Spanish U21 international defender Ander Murillo, a 33-year-old who played over 100 games for Athletic Bilbao in La Liga. Ex-Manchester City and Norwich City left-back Javier Garrido is also missing for the visitors.

Nevertheless, their impressive calibre and experience will ensure that they remain favourites to progress. Under the stewardship of Spanish duo Imanol Idiakez, head coach, and Xavi Roca, technical director, Larnaca’s extended squad features a total of 12 players who have been brought in from Spain.

Among them, Joan Truyols and Joan Tomàs Campasol both had spells at Villarreal, captain David Catala previously lined out for Espanyol, while Jorge Larena — another former Spanish U21 international — played nearly 100 games for Atletico Madrid.

Although they’re certainly not a young side — with an average age of 30 — nine of the 20 players AEK Larnaca have brought to Ireland have been capped at senior international level — six for Cyrprus, two for Macedonia and one for Montenegro. The names of two of them in particular might ring a bell for Republic of Ireland fans.

Andy Reid and Constantinos Charalambides Constantinos Charalambidis of Cyprus tangling with Ireland's Andy Reid in a Euro 2008 qualifier. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Constantinos Charalambidis scored twice for Cyprus in Ireland’s infamous 5-2 defeat under Steve Staunton in Nicosia in 2006. At 35, Charalambidis is generally used as an impact sub in attack by Larnaca. However, another player with experience of scoring against Ireland is more likely to have a pivotal role against Cork City over the coming week.

Ivan Trickovski, who scored in Macedonia’s 2-1 defeat at the Aviva Stadium in the Euro 2012 qualifiers, is a dangerous winger who finished last season as AEK Larnaca’s leading goalscorer.

Additional threats could come from playmaker Joan Tomàs Campasol and French striker Florian Taulemesse, both of whom scored twice in Larnaca’s recent 5-0 first-leg victory over Lincoln Red Imps, the Gibraltarian side who shocked Celtic at home in last season’s Champions League qualifiers.

“From what we’ve seen, they’re very much a possession-orientated team,” John Caulfield said. “They keep the ball incredibly well, move it all around the park and try to force mistakes from you. With the quality of players that they have, it shows you the level that they’re at.

“They feel they can get to the group stages so we know we’re up against it. But to be fair, these guys [Cork City] have done incredibly well for the last couple of seasons and certainly I’d be disappointed if we didn’t have a really serious go off them. That’s what we plan to do.”

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Paul Dollery

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