Roberto Lopes: As a player, you want to be up to it
This year’s Europa Conference League campaign is uncharted territory for many of Shamrock Rovers’ young stars.
Justin Ferizaj, 11, made his European group stage debut in last month’s draw against Djurgardens, while Aidomo Emakhu, 18, won his opener in last week’s 3-0 loss in Molde.
Roberto Lopes is well used to the big stage and is back on form ahead of the Hoops’ Conference League clash against Molde tonight.
The imposing centre-back made a late appearance as a substitute in Norway last week, his first minutes since suffering a knee injury against Drogheda last July. With the Tallaght side still chasing their first win of the group, the big occasion won’t faze the 30-year-old.
Lopes started every game for Cape Verde in January’s Africa Cup of Nations, before being beaten by a Senegal side featuring Liverpool’s Sadio Mané and Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy. Lopes admits the experience on the continent with Rovers helps him on the international stage as well.
“To be honest, they are very similar,” said Lopes, who could earn his first group stage start tonight.
“These are very big stages to play on. Having the experience of playing against quality opponents in Europe really helped me to go to AFCON.
“Young guys who have come into the team, like Justin, it’s amazing to have that experience at such a young age. It will be up to them to move forward. Any advice I can pass on, I try to do.
“Every season when the European games come around, they are really special. You can feel it in the air. As a player, you want to rise to the occasion and show what you can do on this stage.
Shamrock Rovers’ group stage campaign hasn’t gone to plan so far, taking one point from three games. Lopes believes Rovers’ impressive home form will benefit his side tonight, who have not lost at Tallaght for 14 months.
“We feel at home and we will face them,” Lopes added confidently.
“We thought once the draw was done it would be a tough group and the results so far have shown that. If we can use our home form to our advantage we have a chance to make a statement in the group.
Hoops boss Stephen Bradley created a few surprises in last week’s loss to Norway as key men like Jack Byrne, Dylan Watts and Graham Burke didn’t start, thinking about their league clash against Shelbourne. The dramatic 3-2 win over the Reds last Sunday brought Rovers one step closer to a third successive league title.
“Everyone just watches the 90 minutes on the pitch, there’s a lot more to it than that,” Bradley said, with wing-back Andy Lyons doubting an injury for tonight.
“You have to take that into account for the next game. Fortunately, our next two games are at home, which will help us. Sunday was important. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched this team, the character and confidence in the process has always been there. We know that if we stick to it, nine times out of ten it will be enough.
The Dublin team simply need to get a result tonight if they are to hope to make it out of the group.
“If we win our next two games, it’s all over,” Bradley said. “The group is really tight. Molde are a very good team, but when we play at our level we can beat anyone here.
Shamrock Rovers versus Molde,
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