Ryan Byrne/INPHO
forza Filippo
Dundalk beat Faroese KI to qualify for the Europa League group stages
Filippo Giovagnoli’s side were 3-1 winners at the Aviva Stadium tonight.

Dundalk 3

KI Klaksvik 1

FILIPPO GIOVAGNOLI CALLED this a kamikaze mission and, incredibly, he’s stuck the landing.

The Italian landed in Ireland six weeks ago and was met with internal turmoil and external scepticism, fuelled by a CV so bare it didn’t show he had even managed an adult football team.

Now he’s emulated Michael O’Neill and Stephen Kenny in guiding a League of Ireland side to the Europa League group stage. The compares well with any of the year’s oddities, even by 2020′s psychadelic standards.  

The win brings Dundalk back to the competition they graced under Kenny four years ago, and bags them a minimum €2.9 million.

There were degrees of surreality at play tonight: a booming PA system calling for applause in an empty, cavernous stadium was one, and that the Irish side were actually playing the seasoned ogres of a fairytale was another. This was hailed as one for the biggest nights in the history of football in the Faroe Islands, as KI – from a town of just 5,000 people – aimed to become the first Faroese side to ever compete in the competition’s group stages. 

Dundalk, however, took the lead in the first half, doubled it a minute into the second, saw it halved in a rocky period from the hour mark and then dealt KI a sucker punch on the counter in the game’s closing stages. 

KI began as Dundalk expected – and any Irish crowd might recognise – by knocking the ball long to their muscular strike force, with several eager runners from midfield pushing up in support.

This left Dundalk some early space into which they could break, and so Stevan Colovic got an early chance to gallop into swathes of space down the right wing, but saw his cross headed wide at the near post by a stooping Pat Hoban. 

Shortly after, Patrick McEleney found himself in lots of space in midfield, with goalkeeper Kristian Joensen throwing himself to his left to beat a curling shot away. 

This frightened KI into abandoning their meagre ambition and they dropped off into a stubborn, vacuum-packed 5-4-1 through which Dundalk couldn’t pick; a succession of lateral and backwards passes scored to shouts from Gary Rogers to “move it quickly.” 

Dundalk eventually found it was best to go over them. Sean Hoare slung a deep ball from right-back on top of Pat Hoban, who skipped a header forward for Sean Murray, who timed his run to perfection to steal ahead of Heini Vatnsdal and nod the ball beyond the cumbrous KI ‘keeper. 

Murray came to life from there, fizzing a shot over the bar from distance. 

Dundalk doubled their lead two minutes into the second half, as KI made a hames in clearing their lines from a corner. Some penalty area pinball fell perfectly for Daniel Cleary, who volleyed the ball into the roof of the net from three yards. 

Then, on the hour mark, Dundalk grew lax. A loose pass in midfield led to Rogers smartly pushing away a Patrik Johannsen effort, with a subsequent corner causing havoc in the area: Hoban blocked an initial effort in front of Rogers, with Brian Gartland forced to head the follow-up from Jakup Andreasen off his own line. 

Although the rain sluiced down, KI continued to turn up the heat and Dundalk paid no heed to the smoke signals. Five minutes after the hour, the Faroes halved the deficit when Ole Erik Midtskogen was given enough time to rifle a shot into the bottom corner from distance. 

filippo-giovagnoli Tommy Dickson / INPHO Giovagnoli. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

It encouraged the KI to find their range: Joannes Bjartalio knuckleballed an effort from the same spot that wobbled before it was beaten away by an edgy Rogers. 

Now Dundalk were dropping deep, but their doing so was less a plan than an instinct of survival. With 12 minutes remaining and nerves fraying, however, came sweet relief. Gartland hacked the ball clear from the box with the outstanding Sean Murray winning the ball in midfield and arcing a gorgeous pass into the path of substitute Daniel Kelly, who slid the ball beneath Joensen.  

At the end, with his jacket shimmering with the night’s rain and his eyes gleaming, Giovagnoli pumped his fists and leaped into his assistant’s arms. 

Dundalk will lear their group opponents tomorrow afternoon, as Giovagnoli readies himself for the utterly unimaginable. He and his players have given the rest of us an improbable sporting tale with which we can fortify ourselves against a long and hard winter. 


Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Hoare, Brian Gartland, Daniel Cleary, Darragh Leahy; Sean Murray, Greg Sloggett, Patrick McEleney (John Mounteney, 80′); Stefan Colovic (Daniel Kelly, 70′), Pat Hoban (David McMillan, 70′), Michael Duffy 

KI Klaksvik: Kristian Joensen; Deni Pavlovic (John Johanessen, 86′), Odmar Faero, Jesper Brinck; Jakup Andreasen, Heini Vatnsdal, Joannes Bjartalio, Patrik Johannsen; Ole Erik Midtskogen, Pail Klettskard (Boris Dosljak), Joannes Danielsen 

Referee: Maurizio Mariani (Italy) 

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