Straightforward Chris Shields admits he’s still looking at the Europa League group stage qualifying top prize despite their mid-week loss to Zurich.
oals from Aiyegun Tosin and Wilfred Gnonto mean David Healy’s troops will face a major challenge as they travel to the second leg of the Europa League third qualifying round on Thursday night.
The Swiss side are now favorites to face the Hearts in the group stage playoffs, while the Blues will face either the Latvian RFS or the Maltese side Hibernians in the European Conference League playoffs, where the winners reap the benefits of the group stages. actions. .
Shields knows a thing or two about playing in the European group stages, having been a member of the Dundalk team that reached this point in the Europa League in 2016.
And he repeated the feat in 2020 by scoring from the penalty spot in Lilywhites’ 3-1 defeat against Austrian giants Rapid Vienna at the Aviva Stadium during a Group B campaign that also featured memorable bouts against Arsenal. and Molde.
While the Conference League is a more realistic target for the Blues, Shields certainly didn’t give up ahead of the second leg against the Swiss champions.
“We should try to forget about the Conference League,” he says.
“We can’t go up against Zurich with the attitude, ‘We have a Conference League safety net to fall back on.’
“We knew we were in for a big prize if we made it through the first round of the Champions League against TNS.
“We should have gotten more out of the game considering how well we played against Zurich. We conceded two sloppy goals and it’s an old cliche, you can’t afford it at this level.
“We limited them to two chances they scored. That’s what good teams do, they punish individual mistakes and stupid mistakes.
“The first goal was like a hot knife through butter. Somehow the boy walked right through the middle of us. It was a little discouraging because I thought we started well.
“We kept them locked up, they didn’t see the ball very often.
“Sucking hitting so early in the game was pretty nasty. They are a great team. They play in a more established league and their budget is much bigger than what we are used to.
“But I am not a supporter of moral victories. It’s useless to us if people say we’re giving it to the best team. Personally, I thought that we should have left the game with at least a draw.
Zurich gathered about 400 fans in Windsor Park and they made a deafening noise for 90 minutes.
Shields says he will be well prepared for the second leg.
“During my time in European football, I had a lot of noisy fans,” he adds.
“I had 30,000 Polish fans yelling at me during the warm-up.
“I think I can handle 20,000 Swiss fans screaming at me for 90 minutes, at the end of the day it will all be background noise. It was nice to see the support of the partisans on the road, it added to the atmosphere.
“As a player, you don’t know how many European games you have to play in your career. They are added bonuses and everyone should enjoy them.”
After their first defeat at Windsor Park in 12 months – since they lost to Fola Ash in last year’s Europa League qualifiers – Shields believes Linfield can once again turn an international stadium into a fortress.
“We are proud of our home track record, especially domestically,” he says. “As we enter the domestic season, we want it to continue.
“Our league season starts next Sunday, so we will try to extend the record. We are somewhat hard on ourselves, but at the same time not very hard on our result (against Zurich)
“This is the level of football we want to play, so we have to take some positive things out of it. We’ll give it a crack next week. If we can score an early goal, you never know what might happen.
“We have already seen many historical comebacks in Europe, so why not be at the end of one of them?”