Football/Soccer

Dundalk boss calls for a hero to step up

STAR TURN: Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers (purple) was the hero following Dundalk's penalty shoot-out win over Latvian side Riga Picture Margaret McLaughlin
By Padraig Kelly

DUNDALK manager Vinny Perth has told his players that they must rise to the occasion as they prepare to welcome Qarabag FK to Oriel Park tonight for their Champions League second qualifying round first leg encounter.

The visitors are favoured to qualify across the two legs but Perth believes that their round one success against Latvian outfit Riga demonstrates that they have the ability to trouble the Azerbaijani league champions.

“It's obviously a really difficult tie. They've got very strong pedigree in European football and a lot of really quality players,” Perth told the club's website.

“We've got to be patient in the game and we've got to understand that they'll have a certain amount of the football. We'll have to set up in a certain shape to suit that but, at the same time, we've got really good attacking players.

“Generally we score goals in games and it's a night for someone to stand up and score a big European goal for us. That's the challenge for the players.

“It's a very difficult tie but, here in Oriel, we'll have a right go off them and we feel that there are some areas we can exploit them. At the same time we're very understanding that they are a good side who will own the ball for a lot of the time.”

Dundalk have enjoyed some memorable times in European football recently, most notably when they collected four points in the 2016-17 Europa League group stages.

They have come up against some notable names in that period and Perth places tonight's opponents right up there with the best sides that they have faced.

“I think Qarabag are up there as one of the better sides that we've played against in the last six or seven years because of technically how good they are on the ball. That gives them an advantage over some of the other teams we've played against.

“We're going to have to go up to another level – that's been the challenge to the players. We spoke about it in the off-season, about Europe and what it means to this group. They want to be challenged by Europe. It is a big challenge for us but, at the same time, these are the games you want to test yourself in.

“It is Champions League football and the rewards in terms of the next round are huge for us. We'll have a go. We feel we've an opportunity to win the tie, albeit it will be a very difficult tie.”

The ‘sold out' signs went up an hour after tickets were released for this fixture and the Lilywhites boss said that the fans had a part to play in getting behind the home side.

“If everyone who has come up to us to congratulate us in the last week could fit into the ground tomorrow we'd have a fair few people here,” said Perth.

“This is a small provincial town. We've about 40,000 people living here and I think most of them were at the game away last week, at least they said they were there.

“It was a great night for Dundalk. To be putting ourselves on the map in Europe is huge. It's great for the town. There's a lot of doom and gloom around Irish football at the moment and I think there's been a lot of good positive stories in the last week and our aim is to continue that on the pitch tomorrow.”

Qarabag are experienced European competitors and have been Europa League group stage regulars in recent seasons.

The Azerbaijani outfit also competed in the 2017-18 Champions League group stages and drew home and away with Atletico Madrid whilst Roma were only able to record one-goal victories in their two encounters. Chelsea had more joy as they beat them 6-0 at Stamford Bridge and 4-0 at the Olympic Stadium in Baku.

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