Dundalk have made it into the Group Stages of the Europa League for the first time in their club's history, narrowly missing out of a Champions League spot to Legia Warsaw. The draw to decide the groups will be held at 12.00 noon today.
What they want, big name draws that aren't at the other side of the world and a few easy games so they can get through.What they don't want, playing tough teams in the arctic circle with nobody interested enough to attend or watch.
The Airtricity League Champions are seeded in pot 4 for the draw. Ideally, they will want a glamour tie from Pot 1 and the easiest teams from the rest of the pots. With that in mind, here is the best case scenario for Dundalk:
Manchester United (ENG)
AZ Alkmaar (NED)
Rapid Wien (AUS)
The best draw that Dundalk can get from pot 1 is Manchester United. While they won't be eyeing up Mourinho's team as an easy game in the pot, playing United would rake in revenue for the club. A return leg could even take place in the Aviva, such is the draw. Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers has said that he is hopeful for a clash with Manchester United. Dundalk vs Manchester United in the Europa League group stages... what a time to be alive.
A draw against AZ Alkmaar is desirable for a couple of reasons. They came 4th in the distinctly average Eredivisie last season and their path to qualification included a 0-0 draw at home to FK Vojvodina and a 3-1 aggregate win over Greek side Giannina. Hardly convincing. Add that to a relatively fan friendly trip to the Netherlands and you've got a favourable tie.
Steaua Bucharest would also be a decent team to get after being thrashed 6-0 on aggregate by Manchester City. But they do play in Romania which is more than a spin down the road.
Rapid Wien came second behind Red Bull Salzburg is last year's Austrian Bundesliga. To give you a feel of the standard of the league, Red Bull Salzburg failed to qualify for the Champions League group stages for the sixth season in a row. Rapid Wien struggled through qualifying, shipping losses to Trencin at home and Altach away. Dundalk could definitely get results against the Austrian side.
Arguably the biggest name tie in the competition and a couple of games that are winnable, decent group I'd say.
Zenit St. Petersburg (RUS)
A draw with Zenit from Pot one is literally a nightmare situation. As good as the support for Dundalk has been, I don't envisage too many fans making the six and a half hour flight to St. Petersburg to freeze their arses off while watching Dundalk get absolutely smashed by the Russian outfit.
Equally, a tie with Fenerbache would be zero craic. Fenerbache are a perennial thorn in the sides of top level English clubs and they would prove to be a tough match for Dundalk. They finished 2nd behind Besiktas in the Turkish league last season but with the political unrest in Turkey at the minute, a away day in Istanbul probably isn't high on the wish-list of Dundalk fans.
Alternatively, pot 2 could throw Roma into Dundalk's path. While there certainly is a level of prestige surrounding that tie, Roma are a team you don't want.
Finally, a tie against Southampton would be fairly disastrous for the Irish league champions. The Saints are a quality team and will probably be kicking around Europa League places in the Premier League again this season. Despite that, they aren't a glamour tie in the way that Manchester United or Inter Milan are so in essence, what you're left with is a tie against a very good team that won't draw a huge crowd. Not great.
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