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Football: Setting the benchmark; FOOTBALL: IRELAND KICK OFF EURO CAMPAIGNS NEW BLUE CAN'TWAIT FOR EURO DEBUT LINFIELD v GORICA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 1ST QUALIFYING RD WINDSOR PARK TUES, 6PM.

Byline: By MARK McINTOSH

MARK DICKSON can't wait for his first assault on Europe.

Linfield's new striker is almost certain to be thrown in at the deep end when the Blues face Gorica on Tuesday evening (6pm) in the first qualifying round of the Champions League but the lifelong Linfield fan is ready for the mission.

A close-season signing from Larne, Dickson will lead the line with Northern Ireland hitman Peter Thompson as the Windsor Park men bid to make the second phase of the competition for the second year running.

There couldn't be a bigger carrot for the Belfast club, with former world powers Steaua Bucharest waiting in the next round.

"It's no secret I've been a Blueman all my life and when the opportunity arose for me to sign for Linfield I couldn't wait," said Dickson.

"Playing for Larne has been the making of me and I will always be grateful to them but this is where I have always dreamt of playing.

"As a kid I remember watching Linfield during some great European nights such as a 3-0 win against FC Copenhagen and now I might get the chance of being a part of something similar.

"Irish League sides aren't given much of a chance when they play in European competition but the spirit and confidence at Linfield is something else.

"Our pre-season has only started but I can't wait to get on the pitch and play for real."

Dickson, who was involved in the InterToto Cup with Newry City five years ago, is likely to capitalise with Glenn Ferguson missing from the forward line due to a family holiday.

The ex-Northampton Town striker had an impressive game for his new club during the 2-0 defeat to Rangers on Thursday evening and now he's relishing the chance to go for real.

He added: "Playing against a side like Rangers is something you dream of and I'm pretty sure it will make every one of our players better and it was the perfect build up to a tough European game.

"It's always disappointing to lose but it was more about our performance and I'm delighted at how well we're working together this early on.

"It is vital for Irish League clubs to do well in Europe, we've been slated too much in the past but everyone at Linfield is confident we can do a great job."

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EAGER: Mark Dickson
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 9, 2006
Words:403
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