Dundalk wellplaced to pull off greatest European achievement yet

first_img WITH TWO GAMES to go in the Europa League group stages, Dundalk have given themselves every chance of remaining in the competition beyond Christmas.The first-timers exceeded expectation by earning four points from their opening two games — a last-gasp draw away to AZ Alkmaar followed by the home win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv — before suffering narrow back-to-back defeats to top seeds Zenit St Petersburg.Those results have left Stephen Kenny’s side with everything to play for in both tonight’s sold-out clash with AZ at Tallaght Stadium (8.05pm) and the final Group D encounter away in Israel on 8 December as they attempt to progress to the last-32 by clinching the runners-up spot.Playing beyond the first weekend in November is an unusual situation for the Lilywhites and with no competitive matches since the FAI Cup loss to Cork City, they’ve kept themselves busy with training and last week’s friendly against the Brentford reserves.With over 50 matches under their belt already in 2016, the break has given them an opportunity to rest those who needed it while nursing the injured players back to full fitness.Both Ronan Finn and Chris Shields have been troubled by persistent groin injuries in recent months, while captain Stephen O’Donnell has had to deal with hamstring and calf problems meaning he is also doubtful but Dane Massey (calf tear) and Robbie Benson (hamstring) have recovered.It was announced this week that Darren Meenan has signed a pre-contract to join Shamrock Rovers next season and he isn’t included in the matchday squad.“It’s a great opportunity and we’re in a position that we would’ve wanted to be in,” said Kenny at yesterday’s press conference. “Being realistic, Zenit St Petersburg were the best team in the group and the highest ranked team in the competition.“We could easily have got a result in one of the two games and it wasn’t to be but we can still take confidence from the three home games here.“We have been outstanding — BATE Borisov 3-0, a convincing 1-0 win against Maccabi and Zenit St Petersburg, where we went toe-to-toe for large periods of the game.“Those three performances have been up there with any of the performances out of any Irish team. Tallaght has been good to us in that regard.” Kenny oversees yesterday’s training session. Source: Gary Carr/INPHOOn four points with Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Dundalk hold a two-point advantage over their Dutch opponents, who need a win to keep their hopes of progression alive.They are currently fifth in the Eredivisie table with one win from their last seven in the league and come into the game on the back of a 1-1 draw with bottom-placed Roda JC, but Kenny explains that he has huge respect for John van den Brom’s team.“AZ Alkmaar are a terrific club,” the Dundalk boss added. “People travel the world to view the Ajax academy — nearly every coach wants to go see it. And yet, AZ has been voted the best academy in Holland the last few years.“That gives you an indication of their strength and depth. In recent weeks, they have been able to leave (Dabney) dos Santos and (Joris) van Overeem — U21 Dutch internationals and future senior internationals — out of the team.They won the Eredivisie in recent history and have been one of the four big teams with Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV.”Assuming Zenit get the better of Maccabi tonight, a draw for Dundalk would leave them second heading into the final fixture.“A draw could be a very good result,” said Kenny. “That’s what the maths tells us, depending on results elsewhere. We will go to try and win the game, as we do, but a draw could be a very good result.“We need to results — tomorrow and in Israel — regardless, to qualify.” AZ Alkmaar manager John van den Brom. Source: Gary Carr/INPHOAZ boss Van den Brom, who has a full squad to chose from with the exception of injured defender Rens van Eijden, appeared calm as he spoke to the media on Wednesday evening.Ahead of what is a crucial game for the club, the 50-year-old praised Dundalk’s style of play and insisted that they will be ready for the threat of Daryl Horgan on the break.“I think they’re a very good team who want to play football,” he said. “They never kick the ball away like in British football, it’s not the game they play. They like to pass, that is a little bit Dutch style and in the first game they had a very good mentality.”“We are ready for that, he shows it almost every game,” he replied when asked about Dundalk’s star player. “That’s how they like to play — with passing and on the counter-attack with high intensity.“It’s not a surprise to me that they are champions of Ireland so it won’t be easy for us.”The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us! Follow us: the42.ie Ciaran Kilduff reels away after scoring the equaliser when the teams last met in September. Image: Karel Delvoije/INPHO http://the42.ie/3098120 Share31 Tweet Email2 Dundalk well-placed to pull off greatest European achievement yet The Premier Division champions welcome Dutch opposition to a sold-out Tallaght Stadium for their penultimate group game tonight. Nov 24th 2016, 8:00 AM ‘We’ve come from nowhere and now we’re on the verge of qualifying for the last-32′Showbiz, baby! Eamon Dunphy’s new football podcast starts this Friday 4 Comments center_img Tweet thisShare on FacebookEmail this article Thursday 24 Nov 2016, 8:00 AM Image: Karel Delvoije/INPHO 14,798 Views By Ben Blake Ciaran Kilduff reels away after scoring the equaliser when the teams last met in September. Short URLlast_img

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