St Pats facing silent Steaua test
St Patrick's Athletic will have to overcome a huge obstacle in the shape of former European Cup champions Steaua Bucharest if they are to become the first Irish team to make it into the group stages of a major European competition.
Their prospects, however, have been boosted by the news that the away leg of the Europa League qualification play-off in Romania will be played behind closed doors.
This follows the controversy surrounding an offensive banner during the Romanians' second-round win over Hungarian outfit Ujpest, after which they knocked out Motherwell in the third round with a 6-1 aggregate victory.
The second leg of the game between the Dublin side and the 1986 European Cup winners, who have played in the Champions League group stages for the past two seasons, will take place at the RDS on August 27 as Richmond Park does not comply with UEFA standards for this stage of the competition.
“It's disappointing for our fans, a large number of whom would have wanted to experience the next game,” Saints chief execuitve Richard Sadlier said yesterday, as he travelled back from the scene of their incredible comeback and 3-3 aggregate draw (progressing on away goals) against Krylya Sovetov.
“On the flip side, the team will be spared from playing in a hostile atmosphere, which should help our chances.”
Hearts appear to have landed the most difficult draw of British teams in the Europa League qualifying round with a tie against Dinamo Zagreb.
The Croatians were eliminated from the Champions League after a 3-2 aggregate defeat to Salzburg in the third qualifying round.
Hearts boss Csaba Laszlo, however, is remaining positive about his team's chances.
“They are a very famous club but, with the right preparation, it is a game I believe we can win,” he said.
“It's better to have this than to have Everton or Werder Bremen.”
Aston Villa, who qualified for Europe with a sixth-place finish in the Premier League, also have a testing encounter against Rapid Vienna, with the first leg in Austria on August 20.
Rapid finished second in the league, four points behind Salzburg, and were denied a European trophy by an English side in 1985 when Everton beat them in the Cup Winners' Cup final.
Everton take on Czech side Sigma Olomouc, 8-1 aggregate winners over Scottish Premier League side Aberdeen this week.
The Toffees, who reached the FA Cup final last season and finished fifth in the Barclays Premier League, will be at home in the first leg.
Fulham's reward for beating Vetra of Lithuania 6-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round is a tie against Russian Premier Liga side Amkar Perm.
Amkar finished fourth in their domestic league to qualify for the competition but are only 12th this season with four wins from their 16 matches.