DFC | Vinny determined to make Europa League as Dundalk FC’s Champions League hopes go up in flames in Baku

Qarabag 3–0 Dundalk FC | Qarabag win 4–1 on aggregate
UEFA Champions League second qualifying round second leg

His side’s Champions League hopes may have gone up in flames in the Land of Fire, but Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth is confident that the Lilywhites can bounce back and claim a considerable consolation prize of a place in Europa League group stages.

The SSE Airtricity League champions were outclassed by a supremely talented Qarabag side at the Dalga Arena in Baku on Wednesday evening with the Azeri kingpins advancing to a third qualifying round tie with APOEL Nicosia thanks to a 3–0 win on the night, 4–1 on aggregate.

It’s not the end of the road for Dundalk, however. The Lilywhites parachute into the third qualifying round of the Europa League where they will face Slovan Bratislava. The first leg takes place in Slovakia on Wednesday night with the winner of the tie entering the play-off round and Perth is determined to make the most of the opportunity.

“We’re still playing European football and we’re not done yet,” he said after the game in Azerbaijan. “Obviously, it would be amazing to get to the Champions League but our goal is Europa League football for the next few years and we’re one tie away from a play-off.

“It is going to be difficult but at the same time, we’re going to be positive about next week and a play-off of the Europa League is now our goal. It’s only half-time in our European adventure. We prepared for this moment. It hurts a little bit but you take it on the chin.”

After playing so well in the second half of the first leg at Oriel Park a week earlier, Dundalk just couldn’t get to grips with the slick passing and movement of Qarabag in front of 7,000 people.

An early goal by Jaime Romero set Dundalk back but they hung in there and Patrick Hoban went close with a backheel before Ailton’s second, with 15 minutes to play, but the tie beyond reach. Romero added a third late on to give the scoreline a somewhat flattering appearance.

“I said Qarabag were one of the best sides we’ve ever faced,” said Perth. “I was concerned after the first game because I felt we left it behind us — something to hang on to.

“They’re a top side. That’s where we want to get to. We’re obviously off that, Irish clubs are naturally off that, but we believe we can go to the next stage. I think we’ve gone up more than one level, we’ve gone up two levels here,” he added. “We’ll just take it on the chin and we’ll take the bit of flak that goes with it.

“We don’t do moral victories, we’re not taking credit out of anything other than we stayed in the game as long as we could. We didn’t deserve to win. We were a little bit short and they punished us.”

QARABAG FK: Vagner; Maksim Medvedev (Abbas Huseynov 82), Rahil Mammadov, Rashad Sadygov, Ailton; Richard Almeida, Michel (Simeon Slavchev 73), Jaime Romero, Filip Ozobic (Dani Quintana 25), Abdellah Zoubir; Mahir Emreli.

DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Sean Hoare (Sean Murray 56); Jamie McGrath, Patrick McEleney (John Mountney 65), Michael Duffy (Daniel Kelly 79); Patrick Hoban.

REFEREE: Svein Oddvar Moen (Norway).

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