Derry’s Sadou Diallo after scoring against HB Tórshavn in the last round. Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

Opposition guide: What League of Ireland clubs can expect in Europe

Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and Dundalk are all in Europa Conference League action tonight.
Europa Conference League second qualifying round (first legs).

Ferencvaros v Shamrock Rovers

How have they ended up here?

The Hungarian champions have endured a torrid start to their European adventure. 

For a club that has reached the group stages of the Europa League for the last three seasons – reaching the last 16 in 2022 – and Champions League prior to that run in 2020, they really would not have expected to find themselves in this position.

Especially when they were pitted against KI Klaksvik of Faroes Islands in the Champions League qualifiers.

But after a 0-0 draw away from home Ferencvaros were stunned 3-0 in Budapest.

That led to manager Stanislav Cherchesov being sacked. 

What are their strengths?

They pocketed just shy of €10 million for their European exploits last season and one of their dangermen in attack remains the same from that campaign: Adama Traore.

The Malian reached double figures (11) in the league but also netted a brace against Rovers in Budapest. He’s in his second season and likely to operate off the left.

Against KI they sought to play high and play in their half, and all it took was one long ball down the right channel for their two centre backs to be caught out.

If they take a similar approach it will be crucial for Rory Gaffney to pick his moments and allow teammates get close for support.

Left full back Eldar Ćivić, a Bosnian international, is also likely to join in attacks and vacate that area.

What are their weaknesses?

In a word: yes. But they also have the calibre to bounce back. The manner of that earlier European shock will either see them regroup under interim boss Csaba Mate or collapse further.

Their domestic campaign doesn’t start until after the second leg next week so Rovers will have to seriously improve their performance levels if they are to cause a shock against a side who beat them 4-1 over two legs in the Europa League play-off 12 months ago.

Vladimir Petkovic, who managed Switzerland between 2014-21, and former Italy international Vincenzo Montella are two men linked with the full-time vacancy.

It could become far less appealing if Rovers can inflict more pain.

Kick-off: 6pm, Groupama Arena, Budapest.


Derry City v KuPS

How have they ended up here?

This is the Finnish side’s first taste of Europe this season having bypassed the opening qualifying round.

They lost out on the Finnish title to HJK by just one point in 2022 and, after 17 games of the current campaign, are now one point clear. Only problem is that SJK are top by three points.

In a hotly-contested domestic battle, Europe offers a different focus, but not much. KuPS reached the third qualifying round last season, the play-offs in ’21 and Europa League play-offs in 2020.

What are their strengths?

Jani Honkavaara is in charge for a second spell having led them to their domestic title in 2019. A former school teacher who  also worked his way through the Finnish coach education system, he has placed more emphasis on youth this season.

Central to that, quite literally given he operates in the middle of what is primarily a three-man midfield (although it can revert to a five should their wide forwards be required to drop deep) is 22-year-old Jaakko Oksanen.

He joined Brentford a few years ago and had loans with Wimbledon and Greenock Morton to add some steel to his play. He is quick-thinking and calm in possession and capable of helping KuPS control the tempo to their liking depending on what is required.

Further up the pitch is the more experience forward Jasse Tuominen. The 27-year-old has had issues with injury and a knee problem ruled him out of Finland’s Euro 2020 campaign having found the net during qualifying.

What are their weaknesses?

Honkavaara revealed that he has made the most of a LOI TV subscription to do as much homework on Derry as possible.

The KuPS boss reckons his young side will have the kind of test they’ve not experienced so far domestically.

He cited the mental aspect of dealing with the tie as much as the physical and technical attributes of the Candystripes.

With that in mind, and in front of their own fans, Ruaidhri Higgins’ men have a chance to give themselves a platform to gain some control of the tie. Imposing themselves early and maintaining that attitude could keep KuPS on the back foot. 

 Kick-off: 7.45pm, Live on LOI TV (€10), Ryan McBride Brandywell.

KA Akureyri v Dundalk

How have they ended up here?

A 4-0 aggregate win over Welsh side Connah’s Quay secured progress from the first round. Consecutive 2-0 wins in the tie hint at consistency but they have been anyting but in their domestic season so far.

Currently 7th in the table after 15 games, they have lost seven times and won six, scoring 20 times and conceding 29.

Last year they finished second, 10 points adrift of champions Breidablik who proved they were a cut above Shamrock Rovers in their meeting this month.

What are their strengths?

They may not have any considerable European experience to draw on – the club have been involved in just four ties in their 95-year history and this campaign is a first for the squad – but perhaps momentum will be on their side following the victory over the Welsh.

Stephen O’Donnell flew to Iceland on Monday morning following their FAI Cup win over Rovers.

He was there to watch KA face bottom side Keflavik and it would have illustrated the threat they pose going forward as well as the frailties on the counter attack.

They eventually came out on top 4-3 in a crazy game that was in the balance. 

Bjarni Aðalsteinsson is a playmaker in the middle of a three-man midfield and helps his side move the ball quickly. He has the ability to score from distance and also makes dangerous runs off the shoulder, while Daniel Hafsteinsson alongside him has the capability to chip in with goals too.

They will be comfortable in possession but have shown an ability to be clinical when it matters.

What are their weaknesses?

O’Donnell would have seen up close that KA are capable of lapses of concentration at the back and can be left exposed by the midfield trio in front.

The news that Patrick Hoban is fit is a huge boost. The striker will relish the chance to attack balls into the box.

KA can operate with a narrow three-man midfield, which would allow space down the flanks to provide the kind of service that Hoban will thrive off.

Right sided centre back Dusan Brkovic will be up for that battle in a game that is likely to be tense and evenly-matched.

The winners of this tie will face either Club Brugge (Belgium) or Aarhus (Denmark).

Kick-off: 7pm, Framvöllur.

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