Stephen Bradley believes Shamrock Rovers have the attacking players to cause problems for AC Milan as the Hoops welcome European Cup royalty to Tallaght Stadium on Thursday night.
Rovers progressed to the second round of qualifying for the Europa League with a dramatic 12-11 penalty shoot-out win over Finnish side Ilves three weeks ago.
What would ordinarily be a dream draw was the consequence but, while Covid means an empty stadium and no expected windfall, the Hoops have an outside chance to cause a shock.
With Aaron Greene bagging two at the weekend against Cork City and exciting talents like Graham Burke and Jack Byrne in store, Bradley is in no doubt Rovers can hurt the Milanese.
“The difficulty of the game has obviously gone up a level but we’ve got to approach it as another game,” Bradley said.
“We’ll watch it, analyse it and approach it as any other game. You have to do it that way. At the end of the day, you know it’s up the levels but it’s 11 v 11 on the pitch.
“You’ve got to make sure you respect what they’re really good at and, then, when it’s right, we’ll see if we can surprise them. And we feel we have can with the players we have.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a name that rolls off the tongue of every football fan but it’s the Rossoneri’s quality all over the pitch that has Rovers 22/1 outsiders to progress.
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Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is the heir to Gigi Buffon, captain of Milan and capped 18 times by Italy at just 21 years old, while the rest of the squad is peppered with internationals.
Buffon was in the Juventus team that won 2-0 in Tallaght ten years ago at the same stage of the competition – in the Hoops midfield that day was a young Bradley.
The 35-year-old respects the standard of opposition but he’s never been one to be cowed by reptutation – and his players will take the same attitude onto the field on Thursday.
“It’s strange as a player because there’s a nervous energy, but once it kicks off, it’s a game then,” said Bradley.
“You’re in a game. You can’t think of the shirt or the name that’s on the back of the shirt. It’s me against him and that’s how you’ve got to play.
“Leading up to it, there’s a lot of hype and a lot of talk, but once the whistle goes, you can’t play the shirt – you’ve got to play the man.”
Byrne – who watched as a betting company erected a banner reading ‘stylish beautiful football – thank Jack Byrne later’ – echoed his manager’s statements.
Among the likely Milan line-up is his old Manchester City youth teammates Brahim Diaz, while he scored a free-kick for Ireland under-21s against Donnarumma.
“It’s not every day, obviously, that AC Milan come over here and it’s not every week that we play these games and these occasions. But we need to take AC Milan out of it and approach it 11 v 11.
“Maybe the one-off games are a bit more edgy and it’s different without the crowds there, but European nights in Tallaght Stadium are special
“I’m not going to say we’ll do the same against AC Milan but the team has done well and I think it suits us a bit, European football.”