Shamrock Rovers suffered the worst possible start to their marquee Europa League clash with Juventus at Tallaght Stadium on Thursday night when striker De Oliveira Amauri opened the scoring after just three minutes.
The goal started deep in midfield when Diego, always willing to go looking for the ball, dug out possession and flashed the ball out towards the right. Pepe picked it up and played a precise one-two with the Brazilian before slipping in Amauri who in turn clipped the ball past Manus. Tallaght watched in agony as the ball outran Aidan Price and trickled into the corner of the Rover’s net.
Juve manager, Luigi Del Neri had promised before the game that his team would be taking the challenge of Shamrock Rovers seriously and he was true to his word. Throughout the first half he stalked the edge of the technical area issuing instructions and demanding more from his players.
And Juve’s play was full of the quality that one would expect from one of Serie A’s most colourful institutions. Pepe and Davide Lanzafame drove up the flanks offering pace and guile while Diego was a constant torment to the Rovers’ midfield.
A lesser team might have buckled under the sheer weight of Juve’s possession and the constantly threatening nature of their passing and movement. But having overcome the early setback Rovers’ started to come to terms with the tempo of the game. Slowly they began to acclimatise to the fact that their opponents would offer them neither time nor space on the ball and any wayward pass would result in a lengthy period of trying to win it back.
A Craig Sives error in the 17th minute gifted the ball to Diego and although his shot flew wide of Manus’s near post Rovers learned the lesson. From here on the ball was guarded with more determination and the home side started to make some progress. And how the home support responded.
Mannus plucked a dangerous corner out from under the crossbar and was cheered to the rafters. Rice, Turner and Bayly, the heart of the Rovers midfield, started to put some passes together and Thomas Stewart ran at the Juventus defence for the first time. His shot was blocked but Rovers were showing that the Italians that they could play too.
Still Juventus probed and Pepe sent a far post header wide on 33 minutes before being booked for a cynical clip of Turner’s heels. Just on half-time Rovers had their best chance of the opening 45 minutes when a Chambers corner was met squarely by the forehead of Aiden Price and it might have yielded more than a corner but the intervention of a Juve head.
Another corner in the 52nd minute provided Rovers with an even better chance when Dan Murray rose to head inches wide from a Stewart cross. And it was the home side who dominated the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
The Rovers midfield excelled with Turner, Bayly and Chambers each playing a standard of passing football that created genuine problems among the Italian defence. But it was Juventus who almost doubled their lead on 59 minutes when Amauri played himself in on goal and dinked a shot around Manus. Again it dribbled towards the goal-line but, on this occasion, rebounded into the goalkeeper’s arms off the inside of a post.
This signalled the end of Rovers’ period of control. The visitors looked dangerous once more and following a wild Pepe shot that wouldn’t stay down, Billy Dennehy came on for Stephen Rice in an effort to regain the initiative.
The home side did benefit as Dennehy combined well with Enda Stevens on the left and produced a half chance for Twigg and then Bayly but it was Juve who scored the critical second goal.
Marco Motta broke on the right and crossed for Amauri to connect from six yards and tap a simple shot into the Rovers net. It was a heartbreaker for the home side, who might have conceded again with seven minutes left when Amauri, in search of a hat-trick, blasted a shot narrowly wide and then again when substitute, Alessandro Del Pierro, drove inches wide of the same post when set up by Pepe.
Still Rovers pushed on as the minutes ticked away. Paddy Kavanagh replaced Chambers and threaded his way through on several occasions to offer hope for Twigg and Stewart. Stewart ran across the Juve line before shooting into ‘keeper Marco Storari’s arms. And Gary Twigg swung at everything that came his way without ever being granted the luxury of a genuine chance.
When the final whistle went the players were applauded and sung from the field. Juventus were deserved winners of this first leg game and yet the home side managed to cover themselves in the bittersweet glory of rank outsiders who perform to their best.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Manus; Craig Sives, Dan Murray, Aidan Price, Enda Stevens; James Chambers (Paddy Kavanagh, 78), Stephen Rice (Billy Dennehy, 65), Chris Turner, Robert Bayly (Stephen Bradley, 92); Gary Twigg, Thomas Stewart.
Subs not used: Pat Jennings, Danny Murphy, Pat Flynn, Sean O’Connor.
Bookings: Bayly (64).
Juventus: Marco Storari; Marco Motta, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Paulo De Ceglie; Simone Pepe, Claudio Marchisio (Albin Ekdal, 89), Mohamed Sissoko, Davide Lanzafame (Jorge Martinez, 51); Diego (Alessandro Del Piero, 82), Amauri.
Subs not used: Alex Manninger, Zdenek Grygera, Vittorio Ferrero, David Trezequet.
Bookings: Pepe (42), Marchisio (69).
Referee: Fernandez Borbablan (Spain)
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Diego (Juventus).
Simon O'Gorman began reporting for Extratime in 2010. He remembers Milltown and Flower Lodge and, back in the mists of time, saw Diego Maradona play at Lansdowne Road. He now lives in Co Kildare and reports on Shamrock Rovers among others. Simon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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