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Rovers in the Land of Fire and Ice for tonights Europa League opener


The Hoops face Icelandic side Stjarnan in the Samsung Vollurinn Stadium in Garðabær tonight in their Europa League First Qualifying Round clash. (KO 8.15 Irish time.)

Their opponents finished second behind champions FH, of Hafnarfjordur in the league last season which earned them a place in Europe.

This season hasn’t gone as well so far though with the team losing three of their last four league games.

They last won their domestic title in 2014, which secured a spot in the Champions League which saw them take on Celtic over two legs in the first qualifying round in August 2015.

The Scottish side eventually won the contest 6-1 on aggregate, following a 2-0 victory at Parkhead and a 4-1 success in Iceland.

Speaking to the club website earlier in the week, boss Stephen Bradley said The Hoops will have to be strong at the back tonight.

“Having watched Stjarnan on Saturday they’re an attacking threat from set plays and open play so we’ll have to defend much better than that to keep a clean sheet.

“They’re a decent side, they’re very strong from set plays, long throw ins and corners and they’re a big, physical team.

“So we have to make sure we’re switched on from set plays and not give away anything silly.

“In terms of their weakness, I feel that if we play to our attacking strengths we can definitely get at them.”

Icelandic football is riding the crest of a wave following the national teams great showing at the Euros and the FAI could learn a thing or two off the Icelandic FA with regard to spending money wisely.

Ranked 133 in the world four years ago, the national team have risen 100 places in the past year, thanks in no small part to the work put in at grassroots level over the last 15 years.

At the end of the last century the Icelandic FA decided to offer people the chance to become football coaches.

Thanks to the TV money pouring in from Uefa, Iceland set up a hugely popular training scheme which was open to everyone.

The result of this scheme means a country with a population of 335,000 has around 600 qualified coaches, 400 with Uefa B licences, or one per 825 people. In Ireland we have just under 800 for a population of 4.5 million.

With so many highly qualified coaches expertise goes right down to the lowest level. In Iceland  you need a Uefa B licence to coach from under-10 level up and half of the Uefa B licence to coach under-eights.

The Uefa B is one step off the level needed to coach a professional team in England.

Iceland has also invested a lot into school football with the FA buying land next to schools and building all weather pitches enclosed in timber.

Hopefully Rovers can spoil the current feel good factor in Icelandic football by getting a good result tonight.

Luke Byrne is their only injury concern and aside from him the gaffer has a fully fit squad to pick from.