Spurs bring Irish delight as Pulis gets his map out
Something of a nuisance, or a fairytale come true?
Shamrock Rovers were in dreamland after yesterday's Europa League draw pitted the Dublin club against Tottenham Hotspur, but Harry Redknapp is unlikely to be so enthusiastic about a group which also sends his team east of Moscow, to Rubin Kazan, and to Greece. Nor will Tony Pulis and Stoke City's supporters, for all their delight at being in Europe, be thrilled with a draw that puts them on flights to Turkey, Ukraine and Israel. "I'm amazed those countries are in Europe, it will be a logistical nightmare," said Pulis.
Fulham and Birmingham City have geographically easier groups, for which Chris Hughton will be particularly grateful given he is expected to gain promotion from the Championship this season despite a programme which requires coaxing his slim squad through a minimum of 56 games.
There may yet be further British interest as Uefa are investigating the eligibility of several of the Sion team which beat Celtic on Thursday night, seemingly ending all Scottish involvement in Europe. However, should they be reprieved it may only lead to further embarrassment as Celtic would be dropped into a group containing Atletico Madrid, Udinese and Rennes.
Scotland's ignominious week was made to look even worse by Shamrock Rovers' 2-1 win in Belgrade, giving them a 3-2 aggregate win over Partizan. The fan-owned club, whose annual budget is €2.5m (£2.2m), have already banked €1.5m from their European campaign. Chairman Jonathan Roche said: "It's been an unbelievable two days. Last night was an historic occasion and to top it off like this, it hasn't quite soaked in. "
The only disappointment is that Rovers host Spurs in December. They had hoped to cash in by moving the tie from the 6,000-capacity Tallaght to the Aviva Stadium but by then Spurs may well have qualified and so could send a weak, less crowd-pulling, team. With the Aviva costing €200,000 to hire they will instead seek an exemption to play at Tallaght, or raise capacity to the Uefa-minimum 8,000.
Fulham and Stoke should go through, though the latter will probably need a point at one of the few places that rivals the Britannia for noisy support, Besiktas' Inonu. Birmingham, who face last year's finalists Braga, and Rangers' Slovenian conquerors Maribor, may find it harder.
Europa League Groups (selected)
Tottenham Hotspur, Rubin Kazan, PAOK FC, Shamrock Rovers
Dynamo Kiev, Besiktas, Stoke City, Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Braga, Club Brugge, Birmingham City, NK Maribor
FC Twente, Fulham, Odense BK, Wisla Kraków
*Group stage dates
15 Sept, 29 Sept, 20 Oct, 3 Nov, 30 Nov/1 Dec, 14/15 Dec
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