CORK CITY have only beaten FC Malmo and Estonia’s Levadia Tallinn, home and away, on their European adventures and they face a massive task in the heat and humidity of Larnaca and the 7,500 capacity AEK Arena in Cyprus tonight (kick off 6pm Irish time)
Slight injury doubts to left-back and Preston bound Kevin O’Connor and left-winger Stephen Dooley appear to have cleared and centre-half Alan Bennett, who made a comeback in the 2-0 league win over Bray Wanderers on Sunday, looks set to play too having missed AEK’s narrow victory in the first leg in Cork.
City boss John Caulfield is optimistic about his team’s chances and feels City can play a lot better than they did in the first leg at Turner’s Cross where a scrappy 69th minute goal from defender Joan Truyols handed AEK an unexpected victory.
Both teams will again opt for 4-2-3-1 formations but City will have to pace themselves in the expected 26 degrees heat even with an 8 o'clock evening kick-off.
Cork will only have limited possession again and it will be all about patience, game management and trying to play on the counter attack in a game that spells the end for Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor’s time with the Leesiders.
AEK indulged in a fair amount of gamesmanship and time-wasting in Cork and it will be interesting to see if they go with the same cynical tactics here but, having said that, they are certainly a step up from Levadia Tallinn and they have some class Spanish players in their side.
Goalkeeper Juan Pablo looks decent and outfield Spanish stars like Vincent Laban, Jorge Larena and skipper David Catala at centre-half are all very capable footballers and they may start another Spanish ‘import’ in Alberto ‘Tete’ Chamorro who came on as a late substitute for Joan Tomas in Cork.
AEK’s best player, however, is 44-times capped Macedonia international midfielder Ivan Trickovski who plays wide right in the midfield three and everything went through him in the first leg at Turner’s Cross.
Dutchman Hector Hevel on the left side of the three is another threat along with French-born front man Florian Taulemesse, a battering ram of a centre-forward in the old fashioned mould of a Malcolm MacDonald in his prime at Newcastle United or Duncan Ferguson at Rangers and Everton.
Cork have a few class acts of their own and none more so that top scorer and Preston-bound Seanie Maguire who is on the form of his life and would like nothing more than to end AEK’s involvement in the competition,
City got to the third qualifying round last year bowing out to Belgium’s Racing Club Genk and they face their biggest test of the season here if they are to emerge with a victory.
The winners will be at home to either FK Robotnicki (Macedonia) or Dinamo Minsk (Belarus) on July 27 and that game is tied at 1-1 with the return leg in Skoppje.
“We are looking forward to the game and we know it’s going to be difficult a goal down away from home and in a heat that we are not used to either. We have a game plan that might upset them and we need to score obviously and we feel we can turn things around.
They will try to make us chase around but we have to conserve our energy, prevent them from scoring early and get a goal of our own,” said Caulfield at the AEK Arena last night.
“I’d rate AEK on a par with Genk at least if not better. But we have a good attitude, determination and spirit about us and we are not out of this just yet.
We will need everyone to be on form and switched on from the kick-off to have a chance but we know we can play better than we did in the first leg at home.
“What we have to understand tonight is that this gamesmanship they brought to the first leg in Cork is part of the game over here and that’s why we need a strong referee.
We have to be disciplined here and we have spoken about it. We need to be clever and not concede silly fouls or get drawn into silly situations for bookings. Some referees don’t want any contact and we may have to buy into that this evening,” he added.
*Cork City probable (4-2-3-1) team: McNulty; Beattie, Bennett, Delaney, O’Connor; Bolger or Morrissey, McCormack; Sheppard, Buckley, Dooley; Maguire.