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Rice wants repeat of Belgrade

Shamrock Rovers midfielder Stephen Rice will call upon the spirit of Belgrade as he and his team-mates attempt to produce another European shock.

The League of Ireland champions secured their place in the Europa League group stages with a stunning extra-time away victory over Partizan Belgrade last month. However, the degree of difficulty will increase markedly when Russian outfit Rubin Kazan arrive at Tallaght Stadium determined to salve the bitter disappointment of their Champions league exit at the hands of Lyon.

But while Rubin will be overwhelming favourites to open their Group A account with a victory, Rice believes the memories of their big night in Serbia will serve his side well. He said: "Obviously, winning in a place like Belgrade gives great confidence to everyone in the squad, and we are looking to go and get results in the next six games."

Rice added: "We are not saying we are going to do this, that and the other, we are just going to take each game as it comes, so we are just focusing on Thursday and looking to get a result against Kazan, hopefully. The other five games are down the road and we will deal with them when they come along."

The role of underdogs is one to which Irish sides have become accustomed in European competition over the years - indeed, Rovers are the first club side from the country ever to make it to the group stage of a UEFA competition. But it is a label in which they will revel as they look to upset the odds once again.

Rice said: "Generally when Irish teams go into Europe, they are considered as underdogs. It always helps to be underdogs - but we are under no illusions. They are a top, top side and we realise we will have to be at our max to get a result."

The game is expected to be played in front of a capacity crowd of 8,400, although Rovers manager Michael O'Neill is taking a measured approach to his team's big night.

O'Neill, who was capped 33 times by Northern Ireland, said: "It's a big game, it's what you want to be involved in as a player, as a manager, as a coach and I look forward to the challenge now of the Europa League. I am not really one for making bold statements that it is going to be the biggest night of my career or anything like that.

"It's an occasion for the players to savour, for the supporters to savour and for the staff and everyone connected with the club to savour, and that's what we intend to do. The expectation level is with Kazan and we have everything to gain from this game and the other five games that we play in the Europa League."


From Belfast Telegraph