Shamrock Rovers registered a shock 3-2 aggregate victory over Partizan Belgrade to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League. Rovers will now enter the draw for the group stages on Friday afternoon as the first ever Irish club to reach the group stages of a European competition.
Rovers travelled to Serbia with a 1-1 draw under their belts from the first leg encounter in Tallaght. The Hoops struggled during the opening 45 minutes in Belgrade. The home side took a 1-0 lead around the 35 minute mark, when Vladimir Volkov headed past ‘keeper Ryan Thompson.
The interval couldn’t come soon enough for Michael O’Neill’s men, and when it did the manager used the allotted 15 minutes wisely, bringing on Karl Sheppard for Billy Dennehy and changing to a 4-4-2 system. The change reaped dividends for Rovers, as they began to control the game early in the second half while growing more confident in their forays forward as the half progressed.
Their opening goal came just before an hour had elapsed. A corner kick was headed clear by a Partizan defender, only for Pat Sullivan to catch the clearance on the volley from all of 25-yards and unleash a simply unstoppable strike past the helpless ‘keeper.
The hosts reacted to the equalizer with an overzealous determination. The referee failed to spot several nasty challenges born from frustration that could so easily have led to Partizan being a man down. The Serbs probed the Rovers defence for the remainder of the half, but Thompson was rarely troubled between the sticks as the match went into extra-time.
Star striker Gary Twigg was substituted off after 99 minutes for former UCD man Ciaran Kilduff. And it was Kilduff who raced away from his marker down the left side to get a shot on goal, which the ‘keeper could only parry to Karl Sheppard. Sheppard tried to round the fallen ‘keeper but was taken down by his outstretched hand. The referee pointed to the spot and Steven O’Driscoll calmly converted from 12-yards out to Rovers fans in Belgrade and all over Dublin into raptures.
Seamus Coleman (Everton player)
“Well done shamrock rovers.. Qualified for the europe league group stages! Great night for league of ireland football!
Dale Johnson (ESPN journalist)
Shamrock Rovers have done it! Amazing! They have won 2-1 away at Partizan Belgrade and Ireland have a team in the Europa League!
Dara O Briain (Irish comedian)
Well done Shamrock Rovers! Into Proper Europe!
George Galloway (British politician)
Hail Hail Shamrock Rovers!
Rory Smith (Telegraph journalist)
Does Shamrock Rovers getting in to the EL group stages mean the League of Ireland has now overtaken the SPL?
Dan Walker (BBC journalist)
All hail the power of SHAMROCK ROVERS. Into the Europa League group stage. Magnificent.