UEFA Champions League: Depleted Paolites face Shamrock Rovers

Champions Hibernians face Shamrock Rovers of Ireland in the first leg of the 2022/23 UEFA Champions League first qualifying round at the Tallaght Stadium in Dublin on Tuesday, kick-off at 20:30.

It will be a difficult clash for the Paolites considering that they could not count on four of their key players who are serving a suspension along with coach Stefano Sanderra who all received bans after the clash with Riga FC of Latvia last year.

With Ferdinando Apap, Andrei Agius, Bjorn Kristensen and Jake Grech all ruled out, Hibernians worked hard to strengthen the squad this summer. New arrivals include goalkeeper Justin Haber, defenders Rodolfo Soares, Andreas Laursen, Gonzalo Llerena and Lorenzo Soares Fonseca and forwards Gabriel Mensah and Terence Groothusen. Another new signing Kurt Shaw is not yet available.

The Hibernians squad which made the trip to Dublin is, in fact, made up of:
goalkeepers Ibrahim Kone, Justin Haber;
defenders Andreas Laursen, Rodolfo Soares, Zachary Grech, Gonzalo Llerena, Jayden Ohaka, Lorenzo Soares Fonseca, Joseph Zerafa, Gabriel Izquier Artiles;
midfielders Ayrton Attard, Lucas Caruana, Ali Diakite, Dunstan Vella, Isaiah Chukunyere;
forwards Jurgen Degabriele, Thaylor Aldama, Gabriel Mensah, Terence Groothusen.

During pre-season, they played three friendly matches, losing 0-1 and 1-2 to Floriana followed by a 2-2 draw with Gzira United last week. In Dublin, the main objective should be that of keeping this tie alive ahead of the second leg.

Shamrock Rovers Football Club, based in Tallaght, South Dublin, is the most successful club in the Republic of Ireland. The club has won the League of Ireland title a record 19 times and the FAI Cup a record 25 times. 

Their best achievement in Europe was in 2011/12 when they had managed to reach the group stage of the UEFA Europa League after defeating Partizan Belgrade in the play-off round. Last season, they reached the play-off round of the UEFA Europa Conference League but were eliminated by Flora Tallinn of Estonia.

They won the 2021 championship, finishing sixteen points clear of runners-up St. Patrick’s Athletic and this season, they are currently ten points clear of second placed Dundalk in the League of Ireland Premier Division after winning sixteen matches and three draws out of the twenty three matches played so far.

This is the fourth time Hibernians will be facing a team from the Republic of Ireland. In 1979/80, Hibs were eliminated by Dundalk from the first round of the Champions Cup, losing 2-0 away from home and winning 1-0 at home. The following year, in the Cup Winners Cup, the Paolites defeated Waterford 1-0 at home but lost 0-4 in Ireland while in 2002/03, Hibernians qualified to the second qualifying round of the Champions League after beating Shelbourne 1-0 away from home following a 2-2 draw at Ta’ Qali.

The second leg is scheduled for Tuesday 12 at the Centenary Stadium, kick-off at 20:00.

The first qualifying round winners advance to the second qualifying round while defeated teams transfer to the UEFA Europa Conference League Champions Path second qualifying round.

The winner would face the winner of the clash between PFC Ludogorets Razgrad of Bulgaria and FK Sutjeska Niksic of Montenegro in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round.

On the other hand, the eliminated side would enter the champions path of the UEFA Europa Conference League second qualifying round where they would face Levadia Tallinn of Estonia.