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Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 16 February, 2019

Cork City boss believes they've been dealt toughest possible Champions League draw

The SSE Airtricity League Premier Division champions will face Legia Warsaw over two legs next month.

CORK CITY MANAGER John Caulfield admits his side face an uphill task if they’re to advance beyond the opening round of the club’s first Champions League campaign since 2006.

The SSE Airtricity League Premier Division champions were drawn against Legia Warsaw this morning for the first qualifying round of the 2018/19 Champions League.

John Caulfield Cork City manager John Caulfield. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

City are due to be at home in the first leg, which (subject to confirmation) will take place at Turner’s Cross on 10/11 July. The Polish champions will have home advantage for the return leg at their 31,800-capacity stadium on 17/18 July.

It’s the third time in five seasons that Legia have been paired with the Irish champions. They were 6-1 aggregate winners against St Patrick’s Athletic in the second qualifying round in 2014/15, before denying Dundalk a place in the group stages in 2016/17 with a 3-1 victory over two legs.

“I remember two years ago they played Dundalk in the Aviva and they were absolutely fantastic. They played Dundalk off the park,” John Caulfield told Cork’s RedFM today when asked for his reaction to the draw.

“Even though Dundalk did well in the away leg [a 1-1 draw], at the Aviva they [Legia] were brilliant. It’s very, very difficult. The only thing is for our own supporters they’ll be able to get to Warsaw and everyone’s been looking forward to the game.

“We have the first game at home so maybe with the tight pitch and a packed house we can put a bit of pressure on them. But there’s no doubt that it’s probably the toughest draw we could have possibly got.”

Malmo (Sweden), Rosenborg (Norway), Ludogorets (Bulgaria) and HJK Helsinki (Finland) were the other potential opponents for Cork City, who were unseeded in today’s draw which took place in Nyon, Switzerland.

Legia Warsaw have been Polish champions in five of the last six seasons. Like Cork City, they sealed a league-and-cup double when their season ended last month. However, Legia may have to plan without Poland defenders Michał Pazdan and Artur Jędrzejczyk, who are currently on World Cup duty.

Legia Warszawa - Arka Gdynia Legia Warsaw celebrate after winning the Polish double last month. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Caulfield pointed out that the Poles will represent the most difficult opposition that City have faced during his tenure, but he has been encouraged by some of his side’s displays in the Europa League in recent seasons.

Their best run came in 2016/17, when they overcame Linfield and BK Hacken before giving a good account of themselves in a 3-1 aggregate defeat to a Genk side who went all the way to the last eight of the competition.

“There’s no doubt that they [Legia] are probably thrilled with the draw,” Caulfield said. “From that point of view, you’d hope that maybe they might underestimate us.

“Maybe the fact that some of their players are at the World Cup, there might be a situation that they won’t be together that much before they play us in the first game. That might give us a slight opportunity to put them under a little bit of pressure. But at the same time you have to be realistic and look at who they are and what level they play at.

“But we’ve been in Europe for the last number of years, we were in Belgium a couple of years ago and the team we played [Genk] went to the quarter-finals of the Europa League after playing us. They got the fright of their lives.

“In the previous round we beat the Swedish Cup holders [Hacken], so we have done extremely well in Europe. But this is probably the best team that we’ve been drawn against in the last four years.”

The prize for the winners is a tie against Spartak Trnava (Slovakia) or HŠK Zrinjski Mostar (Bosnia & Herzegovina) in the second qualifying round. Should they be defeated, Cork City will have the significant consolation of entering the third qualifying round of the Europa League instead.

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Paul Dollery

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