St. Patrick’s Athletic lie 180 minutes away from making history, as they look to become the first League of Ireland side to reach the lucrative group stages of a continental competition, in their case the Europa League.
Tonight they face one of Romania’s most successful teams, Steaua Bucharest, behind closed doors in the Romania capital. UEFA imposed an a blanket ban on all supporters attending the game after crowd trouble in Steaua’s Europa League qualifier against Ujpest, on July 16.
An empty stadium could mean the tie going in Pat’s favour, with them not having to endure the taunts fellow Irish club Shelbourne did back in 2005, when Joseph Ndo and Curtis Fleming were subject to racist abuse. The Romanian side were later fined, and ordered to play 250km away from Bucharest.
Steaua are no strangers to European competitions having won the European Cup back in 1986 beating Barcelona on penalties. Their last succesful European venture saw them reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in 2006, where they were beaten by Middlesbrough. In 2007/8 they managed to reach the group stages of the Champions League, but have since slipped in the Romania Liga finishing sixth last season, narrowly making it into the Europa League via the play-off.
St. Pat’s go into tonights game full of confidence. Manager Jeff Kenna had this to say ahead of the tie: ‘I’m very confident, very confident. I’ve watched them four times and in the two games against Motherwell, and checking out their team line-ups, they haven’t really changed personnel’
‘By no means will we underestimate them, but we came up with a plan to get past the Russians and I would certainly like to think that we can do the same again’
All eyes will be on their goalscoring machine tonight, Declan ‘Fabio’ O’Brien. O’Brien has proven a relevation, scoring four goals and playing a major role in the club’s European success, becoming the first player to have scored in all of their ties in Europe this season, an Irish record.
Surely Pat’s can’t win again? They’ve been unpredicatable, and fought back from the brink before, why can’t they do it again because at this stage the script has already been wripped up. It would be a fantastic achievement for a League of Ireland club, and would certainly raise the profile of Irish soccer which is looking to stand up and be counted in Europe.