Euro misery for Old Firm
A DISASTROUS campaign by Scotland’s Euro representatives this season could see Belgium take our second Champions League slot in season 2011-12.
That Doomsday scenario has come about after Rangers and Celtic have failed to make it through the group stages of the Champions and Europa Leagues respectively.
The rest of the SPL’s Euro representatives, in the form of Aberdeen, Hearts, Motherwell and Falkirk, suffered embarrassingly early exits from continental competition.
Now, with Scotland currently ranked in 15th place in Uefa’s coefficient rankings and the Belgians just 1.8 points behind, it looks like the nation’s lead could be gone in the New Year.
Belgian champions Standard Liege are sitting third in the Champions League Group H, one point clear of Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar and are on the verge of a Europa League knockout place after Christmas.
If that happens, Belgium will be handed another five co-efficient points to go well clear of Scotland in the ratings.
That, in turn, could mean that with just one team in the Champions League in future seasons, the Scottish game would lose around £15 million per year.
Meanwhile, former Rangers manager Dick Advocaat is a target for Dutch champions AZ Alkmaar after the weekend sacking of Ronald Koeman. Advocaat is currently boss of the Belgian national team.
Stuttgart coach Markus Babbel, who guided his side to a 2-0 win at Ibrox in the Champions League the week before last, has been sacked 24 hours after their disappointing 1-1 home draw with Bochum, which leaves VfB languishing in the bottom three of the Bundesliga.
IF TONY MOWBRAY’S suspicions are proved correct, then exciting times may lie ahead for Celtic. Mowbray has, on occasion this season, been frustrated by the lack of time he has had to coach his new players.
There have been frequent interruptions for international matches as Scotland, and other c o u n t r i e s , h ave c o mp l e t e d t h e i r Wor l d Cu p q u a l i f y i n g campaigns.
Midweek European games, which will come to an end for Celtic with the meaningless fixture against Rapid Vienna in Austria next week, have also posed their problems.
Now, though, Mowbray only has the SPL and Scottish Cup to worry about and he feels he can, at long last, concentrate fully on stamping his mark on his squad.
The final scoreline against Aberdeen on Saturday was 3-0, thanks to a Scott McDonald st r i ke a n d a d o u b l e f r o m Georgios Samaras, but it could and should have been more. Much, much more.
B o t h t h e eve r - i mp r ov i n g Landry N’Guemo and the a lways i m p r e s s ive N i a l l McGinn struck the woodwork. F u r t h e r mo r e , D o n s ke e p e r Jamie Langfield was in inspired form and pulled off several superb saves.
THE triumph over Aberdeen, and, to a lesser extent, those over St Mirren and Hapoel Tel Aviv which preceded it, were performances reminiscent of a bygone era.
The era when Celtic tore apart teams visiting the East End of Glasgow. The era when the home team not only won but did so with some style.
The reaction when Aiden McGeady, who set up two of the goals and hardly put a foot wrong all match, and Samaras left the field at the weekend told a story.
When was the last time such a deafening roar has been heard as players were substituted?
The praise heaped on Mowbray’s team – a group of players which has grown weary of being pilloried for their poor displays and results in the last few months – in the previous week is richly deserved.
There’s no denying that the visitors on Saturday would have missed the services of Mark Kerr, who was suspended after being ordered off against Rangers seven days before, in the centre of midfield.
However, Mark McGhee’s men, with Andrew Considine, Jerel Ifil and wonderkid Fraser Fyvie all back, were arguably even stronger than they were when they defeated the Gers 1-0 at Pittodrie.
I t i s wo r t h r e me mb e r i n g Celtic’s three impressive allround team performances have been attained without the services of two of Celtic’s most important players, Scott Brown and Shaun Maloney.
When the current and former Scottish Player of the Year return to the fray – and Mowbray hopes to have them both back at the end of January – things could improve further still for Celtic.
Samaras – fresh from helping Greece qualify for the World Cup Finals – hitting top form has been vital in helping Celtic overcome their unconvincing start to the 2009/10 term.
As well as his goals, both of which were laid on for him by McGeady, he was immense in all other areas of the park for Mowbray’s men.
He left his opponent for dead time after time. His skill in taking on and beating a rival player caused Ifil to lash out in anger in the second half. He was rightly ordered off for his shocking two-footed challenge.
Crucially, the lanky front man also linked up well with McDonald. While their slick interchanges did not produce a goal on this occasion, their new-found telepathy augurs well for the future.
If Mowbray’s side carry on in this vein over the festive period and into the New Year, then the empty seats in the Parkhead stands will soon fill up.
Vital to the Englishman’s plans for the future is McGeady. It will be no surprise if he is the subject of a few substantial bids during the January transf e r w i n d ow. H i s e mp l oye r s must, simply must, resist any offers if this team is to grow.
Of course, winning matches at home, no matter who the opposition are, is not just hoped for by Celtic fans, it is expected.
The sternest test of their c l u b ’s t i t l e c r e d e n t i a l s f o r several weeks will come this weekend when they make the short journey to Fir Park to take on Motherwell.
A fo u r t h st r a i g h t v i c t o r y over Jim Gannon’s exciting youngsters away from home would suggest that not only have Celtic turned the corner, but that silverware is a distinct possibility come May.