Eastern ex­pe­di­tion in store for Celtic

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE - EUAN MCTEAR

CELTIC face a trip to Azer­bai­jan or Mon­tene­gro in the next round of Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fy­ing, writes Ali­son McCon­nell.

Ronny Deila’s men were drawn to play Qarabag or Ru­dar Pl­jevlja in the third qual­i­fy­ing round, if they beat St­jar­nan in the sec­ond round.

Qarabag drew 0-0 at home to Ru­dar in Azer­bai­jan in the first leg. Celtic beat St­jar­nan 2-0 at home on Wed­nes­day and travel to Ice­land for the sec­ond leg next Wed­nes­day.

Celtic were drawn out first for the third round, which takes place on July 28-29 and Au­gust 4-5.

In­ver­ness, mean­while, will have to over­turn a 1-0 deficit against the Ro­ma­nian side As­tra Gi­urgiu if they are to set up a third-round qual­i­fier against West Ham United who them­selves hold a 1-0 leave over Mal­tese out­fit Birkirkara.

Aberdeen are 3-0 up in their sec­on­dround tie with HNK Ri­jeka of Croa­tia and look on course to meet Kairat Al­maty of Kazak­stan or Ar­me­nian side Alashk­ert, the con­querors of St John­stone, in the third round.

CELTIC’S re­cent vis­its to St Mir­ren Park to play three friendly matches were sup­posed to be the clos­est Ronny Deila’s side would come to Glas­gow Air­port this pre-sea­son.

The man­ager in­sisted in April that his side would scrap any world tours to fo­cus on se­cur­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the Cham­pi­ons League group stages.

Celtic have, how­ever, trav­elled to Spain’s Basque coun­try for an his­toric match with La Liga min­nows So­ciedad De­portiva Eibar to­mor­row evening af­ter hav­ing re­ceived an in­vite that sim­ply couldn’t be turned down.

So what is so spe­cial about this match?

The town of Eibar, which with its pop­u­la­tion of 27,000 could fit in­side Celtic Park twice, is cel­e­brat­ing the 75th an­niver­sary of its football team and does so on the back of its first sea­son in Span­ish football’s top flight – a rise so un­likely no amount of tea leaves could have pre­dicted it.

Past birth­day cel­e­bra­tions have seen Bordeaux and Ajax make the pil­grim­age to visit Eibar in 1965 and 1990 re­spec­tively. Celtic will to­day be­come just the third for­eign team to run out at Eibar’s tiny 6,000-seater Ipu­rua sta­dium, but only af­ter re­ceiv­ing a grand welcome of pipers and a red car­pet at the Town Hall in Un­zaga Square.

Eibar have main­tained strong Scot­tish links for the past two decades. For that rea­son, the club cel­e­brated last sum­mer’s pro­mo­tion to La Liga with the hir­ing of a bag­piper.

The Scot­tish con­nec­tion is a strong one and stems from the 1980s when fans watched rugby’s Five Na­tions, as it was then, and fell in love with the vo­cal Scot­tish sup­port.

The for­ma­tion of the Eskozia La Brava fan group in 2001, the club’s largest fan group and one whose name trans­lates as Scot­land The Brave, ac­cen­tu­ated the Cale­do­nian link, and the East Stand of Ipu­rua Sta­dium even has a Scot­land The Brave mu­ral painted on its wall, com­plete with the Saltire and Lion Ram­pant. Trips to the group’s spir­i­tual home have since fol­lowed to take in matches at the likes of Ham­p­den Park and Celtic Park, usu­ally be­fore pints at their favourite pub, The Horse­shoe Bar.

Celtic fans are guar­an­teed a warm welcome from the mem­bers of Eskozia La Brava – many of whom will be dressed in the team’s away kit from two sea­sons ago, a kit de­signed in the im­age of Celtic’s green and white hoops.

In or­der to earn pro­mo­tion last sum­mer, Eibar had to in­crease its so­cial cap­i­tal by over £1mil­lion and was able to do so thanks to a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign which saw more than 10,000 new share­hold­ers save the club. The club has listed the name of all share­hold­ers on the side of the sta­dium on its ‘Wall of De­fence’, and the num­ber of names hail­ing from Scot­land is re­mark­able.

Many of the trav­el­ling fans will spot their names on that wall this evening.

TAR­TAN TOAST: ‘Eskozia La Brava’ (Scot­land the Brave) Eibar fans group

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