The next seven days could all but secure European football for Shamrock Rovers in 2018.Sun, Sep 24 2017
Turner's Cross hosts European football for the second Thursday in a row as Cork City welcome Cypriot side AEK Larnaca to Leeside (kick-off 7.45pm).
City gave their fans a slight scare last week when, 2-0 up from the away leg in Parnu, they conceded twice in the first half at home to Levadia Tallinn to leave the tie in the balance.
A hat-trick from Sean Maguire after the break settled nerves for the hosts as they ran out 4-2 winners, and 6-2 on aggregate, to set up a tie with tonight's opposition.
The first leg will also be the final time Maguire and Kevin O'Connor play in front of their home fans before joining Preston North End later this month.
“There is a strong Spanish influence in their team and they keep the ball very well,” manager John Caulfield told the club's official website.
“They are very patient, they will keep possession and try to open up the gaps and wear you down to create chances.
“They have a number of seriously good players and it is a massive challenge to us, we know that, but at the same time, we look back at last year and the experience we gained.
“We knocked out Hacken and we gave Genk a serious test too, so we know nothing will do other than a top-class performance from us.
“We know we are up against it but these guys have done incredibly well for the last couple of seasons and I’ll be disappointed if we didn’t have a really serious go at them, and that is what we plan to do.”
Alan Bennett remains a doubt after missing the previous round with injury, while John Duneavy and John Kavanagh are definitely out, but otherwise Caulfield has a full squad to choose from.
AEK Larnaca arrive in Cork on the back of a simple 6-1 aggregate victory over Gibraltarian side Lincoln Red Imps.
The Cypriots won the first leg 5-0 in Larnaca but a much-changed side was held to a 1-1 draw in the return leg in Gibraltar.
City will provide a much sterner test, although not one the Cypriots will be daunted by given they made it all the way to the play-off round last year, beating Spartak Moscow on the way.
“We know they are a great team – we know a lot. They are doing very well – their results are good in the league and in Europe,” said Spanish coach Imanol Idiakez.
“We have many Spaniards and two Macedonian internationals. We try to keep the ball and force our rhythm.
“It will be difficult at the home of Cork City. We will try our best. We know the stadium will be full.
“It is always important to score away from home in the knockout round. I think qualification will be decided in the return leg.
“They have quality players who will go on to Preston. We will try to win as a team. It is definitely difficult that we did not have competitive games but we never look for excuses.
“It will be a tricky game but we will do what it takes. Cork City is one of the toughest rivals we could have had.”
AEK will be without Javier Garrido, Nikos Englezou, Acorán and goalkeeper Ruben through injury.
Referee: Francois Letexier (France).
Cork City have unblemished record against Cypriot opposition, having won their one and only meeting in Europe back in 2007-08.
As champions, City drew AEL Limassol in the Champions League first qualifying round, winning the first leg 1-0 (Billy Woods scoring) at home before drawing 1-1 in Nicosia.
The latter game ended with a bust-up after the final whistle in which Joe Gamble and Danny Murphy, and two AEL players, were sent off and both missed the next round against Red Star Belgrade.
AEK have never met League of Ireland opposition, however they did play Cliftonville at this stage of the competition last year.
The Cypriots won 2-0 at home and 3-2 at Solitude to earn a comfortable 5-2 aggregate victory and a third round tie with Spartak Moscow before bowing out to Slovan Liberec in the play-off round.
Cork City 11/10; Draw 21/10; AEK Larnaca 9/4.
Cork City 1 – 1 AEK Larnaca
Injured: John Dunleavy (knee), John Kavanagh (hamstring).
Doubtful: Alan Bennett.
Injured: Javier Garrido, Nikos Englezou, Acorán, Ruben.