Eastern expedition in store for Celtic
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