Conference League draw: Everything you need to know about Shamrock Rovers’ European opponents


Late Thursday night, Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley spoke of a discussion with his players in January.

It was a rally where they set the goal of qualifying for the Europa Conference League group stage, a goal they managed to achieve via the backdoor of winning a Champions League draw and to lose the next one before doing the same. in the Europa League.

But there was another element in the mission statement. “The discussion in January was not about going to the groups and going to party,” Bradley said, explaining how they want to become the first Irish side to reach a knockout stage. “The goal is to get out of the group. We are not stupid. I know the draw should be fun, but that’s our goal.

Yesterday afternoon, the Rovers group learned of their fate. In the locker room, there were different views on what they wanted.

Players who dreamed of a glamorous game, with Villarreal, West Ham and Fiorentina leading, were left disappointed.

And there would be no joy for the individuals who wanted Rovers to benefit from third-seeded status by landing an average team in Pot 4. The Riga team that fought their way beyond of Linfield or Ballkani of Kosovo would have appealed even if it is not the kind of encounter they would have imagined in their group stage musings.

In the end, Rovers landed something in the middle. They have no reason to be terrified of a group made up of Gent (Belgium), Molde (Norway) and Djurgarden (Sweden), but that’s not a good result either.

The Swedes are only ranked below Rovers because they haven’t played as regularly in European competition, but they are fighting at the top of a competitive league.

Molde leads the Norwegian top flight and scored four away goals in Austria to knock Wolfsberger out after a shock first-leg loss put them under pressure.

Ironically, it’s Gent, the highest ranked protagonist, who appears to be in ropier form. They were well beaten by Omonia Nicosia over two legs to exit the Europa League while Djurgarden crushed APOEL in the second leg to qualify.

In truth, it’s entirely possible that all six matches will be of similar difficulty for the League of Ireland champions.

Nonetheless, there is confidence that they will be able to hold their own with veteran goalkeeper Alan Mannus – who remains coy about whether or not he will play beyond the end of this season – articulating the view that they’ll be craving their chances at Tallaght in particular.

Andy Lyons’ late header against Ferencvaros on Thursday made no sense against the backdrop of a tie lost in Hungary, but he maintains a home record of 100% wins at continental fare this season.

“When you look at the teams we’ve faced, Ludogorets and Ferencvaros in particular, two teams that have been in the group stage, to get us the results we got against them sends a message that we are a tough team to play. against us,” Mannus pointed out, with Rovers learning the order of matches today.

“We have played against Swedish (AIK) and Norwegian (Brann) teams in recent years and we have done well against them. So we have that little experience. We know we can give any team in Europe a tough game, especially in Tallaght.

Rovers will respect high caliber opponents. But they shouldn’t be intimidated by them.

Rovers’ Europa Conference League rivals

Ghent (Belgium)

How did they come here?
Third place in the Belgian league last year qualified them for the Europa League qualifiers where they exited after a 4-0 loss to Neil Lennon’s Omonia Nicosia.

European pedigree?
Top seeds due to some decent races and Belgium’s high level. Reached the Round of 16 in the Conference League last season.

Best known for?
They have a top notch academy with Kevin de Bruyne the hottest export

The club is based in Ghent, a city of 260,000 inhabitants. They play in the Ghelamco Arena with a capacity of 20,000.

Molde (Norway)

How did they come here?
They finished second in the top flight, three points behind Bodo Glimt’s side who narrowly missed out on the Champions League. The Norwegian league leaders have gone through three rounds of the Conference League against Elfsborg (Sweden), Kisvarda (Hungary) and Wolfsberger (Austria).

European pedigree?
This is their third group stage run, along with the previous two in the Europa League, including 2020 where they won home and away against Dundalk. In 2016 they topped a group with Fenerbahce, Ajax and Sevilla.

Best known for?
The club that launched Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching career. He had two successful stints as manager after playing as a player.

Molde has a population of just over 26,000, but there is still the Aker Stadium, an 11,000 capacity venue with an artificial pitch.

Djurgardens IF (Sweden)

How did they come here?
Third place in Sweden last season, two points off the top in a thrilling title chase. Beat Rijeka (Croatia), Sepsi (Romania) and notably APOEL Nicosia (Cyprus) to get here, a 3-0 win at home after a 3-2 loss away.

European pedigree?
This is their first campaign in the group stage; they were regular participants in the early 2000s when Shamrock Rovers and Cork were among the teams they knocked out, but had a decade out of the limelight between 2008 and 2018.

Best known for?
They have a passionate fan base who traveled in large numbers when they visited Dublin to face Rovers in 2002. Djurgarden are 12-time Swedish champions.

Based in the Johanneshov district of Stockholm and play in the 30,000 Tele2 stadium.

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