KENNY SHIELS accepts the odds are firmly stacked against his Derry City side in their UEFA Europa League first round qualifier and warned his players to be ‘careful’ when they make the trip to face Denmark’s Midtjylland next week.
The Candy Stripes were paired with the second highest ranked of the 100 teams in yesterday’s draw in UEFA headquarters in Nyon with the Danish outfit boasting household names such as Dutch World Cup finalist and ex-Real Madrid and Spurs star, Rafael van der Vaart.
Midtylland also have several Danish and Finland internationals, including Jakob Poulsen and ex-Southampton midfielder, Tim Sparv, within their ranks and have enjoyed plenty of success in the competition in recent seasons.
The 2005 Danish Superliga champions famously recorded a 2-1 victory over Manchester United in the last 32 stage of the Europa League during the 2015/16 season before losing 5-1 to the Red Devils in the return leg at Old Trafford.
They also knocked Southampton out of the Europa League in 2015 with a 2-1 aggregate victory and, last year, they progressed through three qualifying rounds before being beaten by Turkey’s Osmanlispor 3-0 on aggregate at the play-off stage.
“It’s one of the toughest draws but you have to deal with it and prepare for it,” said Shiels who has already began doing his homework on their European opponents.
I don’t want to make comparisons I just want to focus on doing well for the club. There’s a lot to live up to in terms of what the club has achieved in Europe results-wise.Kenny Shiels
“Of 100 seeds, we get number two!
“We’ve got to be careful and make sure we defend well. But we’re all looking forward to it.”
Midtjylland, who finished fourth in the Danish League last season, concluded their campaign at the beginning of June so Shiels reckons the Danes will be ‘sharp’ and will prove a huge test for his young side.
“They’ve just finished their season 12 days ago so you can’t really say they’re out of season because they haven’t played in two weeks.
“It’s the opposite effect in fact. They’ve got the game fitness of the season so they won’t lose that sharpness for six weeks at least.
“It’s a challenge we’ll relish and everyone will be looking forward to it. We must make sure we prepare properly. There’s a lot of work to be done in the preparation, in how we analyse the opponent and all that stuff has to be covered.
“We will be doing some of that today but my most important thoughts are towards Cork at the moment. Come the weekend it’ll be time to get to work on Midtjylland.”
The meeting with the Danish club evoked memories of Ballymena United’s famous result against Odense Boldklub in the UEFA Intertoto Cup first round tie in 2004 when Shiels led the Sky Blues to a scoreless draw before losing 7-0 in the return leg.
And Shiels has billed Derry’s encounter with Midtylland as a similar David versus Goliath clash.
“I’ve got memories of taking Ballymena to Denmark to meet Odense who had just beaten Real Madrid home and away - the first team ever to do so - the previous season.
“It was like David versus Goliath and we went there and got a 0-0 draw. It was one of the greatest results in Ballymena’s history.
“It just shows you how unprofessional we were because we had five or six players who were away on holidays for the second leg. They put their holidays before the football and we got beat heavily at home.
“So it’s comparable to the Ballymena game. Everyone was worried about Odense going out there in the first leg. We had boys playing out of their skin and our organisation was good. We’ve got to be really detailed in our preparation for this game.”
Derry has enjoyed plenty of memorable European adventures including the 2006 run which saw them claim the scalp of European giants, Gothenburg. And so Shiels believes his side have lots to live up to as they attempt to emulate those historic results and keep this tie alive going into the return leg the following Thursday in Sligo.
“I don’t want to make comparisons I just want to focus on doing well for the club. There’s a lot to live up to in terms of what the club has achieved in Europe results-wise.
“Derry have been fantastic with how well they’ve done and we want to try and emulate that which will be very difficult.”
Derry will travel to the MCH Arena in Herning for the first leg next Thursday, June 29th with the return leg at Sligo Showgrounds on Thursday, July 6th.
Should City upset the odds and progress to the second qualifying round, they would travel to meet the winner of the first round clash between Hungarian outfit, Ferencvarosi TC and FK Jelgava of Latvia in the first leg. Ties to be played on July 13th and 20th.