European Qualifiers

As a big advocate of Scottish football, constantly frustrated by those that seek to rubbish our game, I always enjoy the European qualifiers.

A chance for our clubs to make an impact and show us what they can do on a wider scale. There has been disappointment and hilarity in the last ten years or so, but there has also been a lot of cause for optimism.

In recent years results such as St Johnstone beating Rosenborg, Aberdeen beating Groningen and Celtic beating Barcelona have boosted the spirits of those seeking to celebrate the Scottish game.

Off the pitch, these games provide an opportunity (however brief) for the fans of these clubs to experience the glamour of a European trip. Whether to a cathedral of football in Italy or Spain or somewhere deep in Eastern Europe.

For fans of the smaller teams in particular it does not matter. It’s a trip with sunshine, laughs and football.

This season we are represented in Europe by Celtic in the Champions League qualifiers and Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs in the Europa League qualifiers.

Where else can we start, but with Celtic. It would have been impossible to miss their result on Tuesday when Lincoln Red Imps from Gibraltar stunned the Scottish champions, winning 1-0. This was without question the worst result in Celtic’s European history and almost certainly the worst European result of any Scottish side.

A common refrain from many in Scotland has been that the smaller clubs have held both Celtic and Rangers back by failing to deliver coefficient points, with performances in the Europa League branded ‘abysmal’.

There was a sense of irony then, when the multi millionaires of Celtic were humbled by a team of policemen, taxi drivers and the like.

They will come back and win in Glasgow, but they have had their nose bloodied. Brendan Rodgers will have learned a lot about his team from a dismal performance, however it seems almost impossible to imagine this team troubling the Champions League group stages.

Aberdeen taking on Ventspils of Latvia produced another heartening  performance. They seem to have a knack for progressing the very earliest stages in European competition and with progress all but confirmed after a 3-0 win, they will be hoping for a favourable draw in the next round.

This was as good a result as the Dons could have hoped for.

Hearts faced a potentially tricky opponent in Malta, with Birkirkara having proven a tough opponent for West Ham in qualifying last season. The heat seems to have had a negative effect on the Jambos, yet they still came away with a very creditable draw in a game which, by all accounts they dominated.

They will feel confident that they have put themselves in a promising position for the return leg in Edinburgh.

The final Scottish representative was Hibs.

They were the only Scottish side unseeded in their tie, facing Brondby.

Within 17 seconds, Hibs were behind due to a desperately unfortunate goalkeeping error.

Perhaps these errors are the difference between success and failure against better opposition in Europe.

Beyond that one nervous moment, there was very little between the sides. The Championship side matched one of the better teams in Denmark’s top flight all the way.

An offside goal saw new boss Neil Lennon sent to the stand (shock) and there did seem to be a reasonable shout for a  penalty as the hulking Grant Holt stumbled through the yellow wall of the Danish defence.

Ultimately, Hibs did not disgrace themselves. They gave a very good account of themselves and they have given themselves at least a chance of progress, however unlikely.

The embarrassment of Tuesday was cancelled out by respectable showings from the three ‘diddy’ sides last night.

Next week will show the mettle of our clubs as they try to force themselves over the line, and one step closer to the group stages.



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