Archive for July, 2012

Celtic’s most optimistic followers can start planning a trip to Israel

Hapoel Kiryat Shmona hopefully await Celtic in next round

For those Celtic supporters confident that their club will overcome HJK Helsinki in the Champions League Third Qualifying Round and who want to start planning their trip for the 4th Knockout Round stage, then the midweek results in the Second Qualifying round need to be factored into revised calculations of Celtic’s likely opponents.

Some unexpected 2nd Round results have meant that changes have had to be made to the analysis contained in the GGW post “Celtic’s prospects look good” of 19th July.

The major shock of the Round was that Luxembourg champions Dudelange knocked out the much more fancied Austrians, Red Bull backed Salzburg, thus removing one of the clubs set to be seeded alongside Celtic in both the 3rd and 4th Round draws. And in another upset, Israeli Champions Hapoel Kiryat Shmona  overcame an away leg 1-0 defeat to eliminate Zilina earmarked by GGW as the weakest of Celtic’s 5 likely 4th Round opponents. All the other games went as anticipated with Molde and Neftchi Baku confirming their first leg advanatages and all the other seeded teams qualifying. Although Dinamo Zagreb left it latest, needing a goal in the 8th minute of injury time to scrape into the 3rd Round.

The revised 3rd Round Draw has worked well to Celtic’s advantage with ties like Slask Wroclaw versus Helsinborg, BATE Borisov versus Debrecen, Cluj versus Liberac, AEL Limassol versus Partizan Belgrade, and Molde versus Basel meaning that some of the ten strongest team left in the last 20 are guaranteed to be eliminated. Hapoel are likely to eliminate Neftchi Baku but Dudelange will probably lose to Rangers’ old nemesis Maribor.

So the most likely outcome is that Celtic’s list of 5 potential opponents for the 4th Round draw will be two clubs, Partizan Belgrade and Helsingborg, both best avoided although still beatable; Cluj and Maribor as stuffy but beatable Eastern European obstacles; and by far the best option,  a trip to Israel to face Hapoel Kiryat Shmona.

But the Finns HJK Helsinki still have to be overcome first.

GGW will review the picture after the fisrt leg third Round ties on 31st July and 1st August by which time hopefully Celtic will have done enough at Celtic Park to make the trip to Helsinki more comfortable.


Ajax scrubs out any Celtic complacency

Ajax show Celtic there is no room for complacency

GGW Reporter Stephen  O’Donnell was in Amsterdam last weekend covering the Celtic game for GGW. This is his report

“It seemed like a good idea at the time. I was down in East Anglia for a wedding last week and I thought, why not stick around for a few days, take a short flight across the North Sea and combine it with the Celtic v Ajax game on the Saturday.   So I booked it on Expedia and the photographer and I were all set. Just a shame Celtic never bothered to turn up really.

That was actually a football cliché, the team did in fact turn up, but they got gubbed four nothing so I’m not sure it was worth the effort in the end.  On our first day we had taken a tour of the Amsterdam Arena and were shown round the stadium by a friendly tri-lingual chap called Daniel, who narrated the details of Ajax’s illustrious history and expounded the pros and cons of the retractable roof to his party of tourists in Dutch, English and Spanish. When I told him we were from Glasgow and we were in town for the game at the weekend, he smiled and said he was looking forward to a nice atmosphere. Then he asked me about Rangers. I managed to keep a straight face and tell him everyone in Scotland was shocked, and how strange it was that this big club, or the phoenix revival version, would now be playing in the fourth tier of Scottish football. But, I suggested, if they were cheating then it was right that they should be punished of course. Perhaps this would be the appropriate juncture to append a note to McCoist and co; the punishments haven’t even started yet, Ally, so spare us the ‘we’ve been punished enough’ routine, it’s pathetic, quite frankly.

The Amsterdam Arena?  Well, for marketing reasons, it’s actually known as the Amsterdam ArenA, and it’s a magnificent ground. But there’s something eerie and unreal about an indoor football stadium. It just doesn’t quite work for me and it’s not hard to see why the idea hasn’t fully caught on, even in windswept and rain-soaked countries like Scotland. Apart from the odd ambience it creates, Daniel explained to us that there is also considerable expense and effort required to ensure the grass receives enough water, wind and light. Giant machines parked round the stadium are continually in use to supply the turf with what nature would otherwise readily provide. The point of having a roof on the stadium was never really made clear.

Two days later and we made our way back to Bijlmer Arena station, this time on a train full of jostling and spirited Celtic and Ajax supporters.

GGW Reporter and Photographer enjoy a beer during the game

The first thing we did after collecting our tickets and finding our seats was to buy ourselves a beer. I managed to drink it, along with several others, over the course of the next ninety minutes or so, while at the same time curtailing my violent, drunken, football supporting Scottish instincts, and instead I watched and enjoyed the game peaceably in the company of my fellow supporters. Who’d have thunk it? The way it works, if there are police chiefs or football legislators reading, is, you buy a card, not unlike a top-up phone card, and you pay for your beers with that. If you run out of credit, and I did, you pay to top it up and more beers are available!

So to the football. I half hoped I might get away with not actually talking about the game itself? Alas, no. Celtic lost four nothing, 4 nil, vier nul. They were three nothing down after twenty seven minutes and looked all at sea defensively. Neil Lennon afterwards took the blame and said he wasn’t too dispirited because they were trying out a new system which they weren’t very used to. Well I distinctly seem to remember them playing three at the back a number of times towards the end of last season, but against these opponents they were simply outclassed. Rogne, Mulgrew and Wanyama were regularly caught out by the movement and passes of the Ajax players and after half an hour, three goals down, they switched to a flat back four. Izzaguire was hauled off at half time, looking a shadow of the man who won player of the year, Stokes looked lively but James Forrest never got the ball in his auxiliary striker role. A flexible 4-4-2 that can shift to 4-3-3, with Scott Brown tucking in against more sophisticed opponents would seem to be Celtic’s best formation. Three at the back went out with Franco Baresi, so I sincerely hope this result signals the end of that particular experiment.

The guy next to me informed me that Ajax had gained direct entry into the Champions League this season, which I knew already but I was just being chatty. Maybe they’ll meet Celtic in the Group Stages, I suggested. Maybe beer in football grounds should be banned after all. It looks a long way off, in the cold light of sober day, but if the Hoops can make it past Helsinki and the rest, and they find themselves in the money-spinning competition proper, then a trip to Amsterdam and the home of Ajax would be well worth a reprise visit. Hopefully Celtic will have their system sorted out by then or a similar, far more embarrassing result in a real fixture of consequence could well be resounding around Europe in a few months time.”

All literate Celtic fans should note that Stephen O’Donnell, a regular contributor to GGW, is shortly to have his first novel published. Paradise Road will be of great interest to Celtic supporters.

Paradise Road a must read for all literate Celtic supporters

Paradise Road is the story of Kevin McGarry a young man from the West of Scotland, who as a youngster was one of the most talented footballers of his generation in Scotland. Through a combination of injury and disillusionment, Kevin is forced to abandon any thoughts of playing the game he loves professionally. Instead he settles for following his favourite team, Glasgow Celtic, as a spectator, while at the same time resignedly and with a characteristically wry Scottish sense of humour, trying to eke out a living as a joiner.

It is a story of hopes and dreams, idealism and disillusionment, of growth in the face of adversity and disappointment. Paradise Road examines some of the major themes affecting football today, such as the power and role of the media, standards in the Scottish game and the sectarianism which pervades not only football in Glasgow but also the wider community. More than simply a novel about football or football fandom, the book offers a portrait of the character and experiences of a section of the Irish Catholic community of the West of Scotland, and considers the role of young working-class men in our modern, post-industrial society.

The road Kevin travels towards self discovery, fulfilment and maturity leads him to Prague, enabling a more detached view of the Scotland that formed him and the Europe that beckons him.

In the words of  an initial review

“Written in a thoughtful, provocative yet engaging style, Paradise Road is a book that will enthral, challenge and reward in equal measure. It will be a powerful addition to the growing debate on some of the key issues facing contemporary Scotland”

Paradise Road can be pre-ordered from the Ringwood Publishing website www.ringwoodpublishing.com  for £9.99 plus p&p


Helsinki it is then, a good Champions League Draw

HJK Helsinki the opponents GGW hoped Celtic would draw

Well, Celtic got the draw that GGW had identified as the best option to ensure their qualification for the 4th Knock Out Round of the Champions League, when they came out the urn along with HJK Helsinki.

Helsinki can prepare for a green invasion on 8th August although hopefully the outcome of the tie will have been secured in the first leg game at Celtic Park the week before. Any Celtic fans planning to travel to Helsinki should take loads of money given the extortionate price of beer, with even a small bottle costing about £6 and pints working out nearer £10 a time. Cynics attribute the high Finnish male suicide rate to this phenomenon.

HJK have been Finnish Champions the past 3 seasons and lie second as the current season approaches its climax. They have regular European experience with the highlight being 1998-99 when they became the only Finnish team ever to reach the Champions League Group Stages. They did not qualify but were not disgraced with a home win and an away draw against Benfica the pick of their results. However they have never come close to that level in the past 12 years and while memories of Utrecht will stop Celtic being complacent, it would be a major shock even in Finland if Celtic were unable to overcome this opposition over two legs.

The Sonera Stadium can expect a green and white influx

Earlier this week HJK won their Second Qualifying Round first leg game 7-0 so Celtic fans need to waste no time on KR Reykavik the linked team in the draw. It will definitely be HJK that Celtic face.

As the 7-0 scoreline might suggest, HJK are an offensive side who regularly play with 3 forwards, in defiance of the modern trend to only one striker. For the current campaign HJK invested in two new forwards. Juho Makela, a Finn who was on Hearts books a few years ago without making any impact, was brought back from Australia and has been scoring freely in the League. He contributed a hat-trick against KR so Celtic’s defence should give him no leeway, without having to tremble in their boots. The other signing was 24 year old Demba Savage a Gambian internationalist who can play a bit and will need careful watching.

17 year old wonderkid Joel Pohjanpalo. Celtic should buy him

But the third forward is the one Celtic fans should really watch out for, 17 year old wonderkid Joel Pohjanpalo. GGW suggests all readers of this post should Google his name on You Tube to see him score  a hat-trick in 3 minutes in a recent Finnish match. The fact that one goal was from a header, another with a right foot shot and the third from  a left foot shot indicates the all round level of skill this young player possesses. Finnish commentators reckon he is certainly the best young player they have produced since Jari Litmanen and possibly with even greater potential. Celtic could do far worse than buy him up, after they remove HJK from the competition.

In defence the man Celtic will have to beat to advance is club captain, the 36 year old goalkeeper Ville Wallen. In front of him the back four is led by another two over 30s Rami Hakenpaa and Tuomas Kansikas. The Celtic front men should have too much pace for these tiring old legs.

So quiet confidence should be the reaction to this favourable draw


Late Champions League Draw split helps Celtic

AEL Limassol the revised main danger

The decision by UEFA, taken after yesterday’s GGW article was posted, to split the Third Qualifying Champions Route draw into two pots of 5 seeded teams and 5 unseeded teams has strengthened Celtic’s position. The way the split was constituted guarantees that Celtic can no longer be drawn against main danger Slask Wroclaw of Poland, nor against the Czechs Slovan Liberec, the Hungarians Debrecen nor Rangers old foes Maribor. The 5 teams left as potential opponents(bar major upsets in the 2nd Round 2nd legs) are an easier group. The two most dangerous are Molde of Norway and AEL Limassol of Cyprus neither of whom should be a match for Celtic. The other 3, Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova,  HJK Helsinki from Finland and Neftci Baku from Azerbaijan should all be highly beatable.

HJK Helsinki the preferred opponents

So the revised worst case scenario becomes the Cypriots AEL Limassol, and the preferred opposition , mainly on travel grounds, is HJK Helsinki.

GGW will provide a full profile of the actual opponents once the draw is made later today


Celtic’s Champions League Prospects look good

Friday's Champions League Draw should hold no fears for Celtic

The recent troubles of  domestic rivals Rangers, while absorbing, have diverted attention from Celtic’s hard earned right to pursue further European adventures. However the good news is that as the well deserved Scottish champions, Celtic’s route towards the 2012-13 Champions League Group Stages will be through the rather easier Champions Route rather than the Non Champions Route they were forced to pursue in recent years as Scottish runners-up. This means they no longer run the risk of being drawn against a top club from one of the Big Five European Leagues. Instead they will face opposition only from the Champion clubs of the other 41 European Leagues.

The combination of Scotland’s National  Coefficient ranking and Celtic’s own still high club coefficient ranking, mean that Celtic were able to sit out the First and Second Rounds of this qualification process. The First Round saw 6 champions from Europe lowest ranked leagues compete for 3 places in the Second Round. The 3 winners, including Linfield, then joined another 31 Champions in a Second Qualification Round to produce 17 ties. The first legs of this round were played on the 17th and 18th July with the second legs due on 24th and 25th  July. The 17 successful clubs will be joined by Celtic, Anderlecht and CFR Cluj from Romania in the draw for the Third Qualifying Round which takes place this Friday, 20th July 2012 with the games due on July31st/1st August and 7th/ 8th August.

Slask Wroclaw the main one to avoid but still beatable

GGW has previously described how a degree in advanced mathematics plus a qualification in nuclear physics is required to cope with the complexities of the Champions League Qualifying draws. For the Third Qualifying Round there will be ten seeded teams and ten unseeded teams. Celtic are guaranteed to be seeded in this round so they will definitely avoid the main dangers like Anderlecht, Basel, Partizan Belgrade and Salzburg. However predicting who they might face is more complicated. After this week’s first leg games it looks as if all seven of the seeded teams who had to play in the Second Qualifying Round will get through, thus avoiding Celtic. However several of the teams seeded in the Second Round draw but unseeded for the Third Round look unlikely to qualify after poor first leg results. Most notably Ventspils of Latvia who were beaten 3-0 in Norway by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde. It looks like Solskjaer will be a top class manager of the future. More disappointingly Zestafoni of Georgia who would have been the easiest of the ten unseeded options for Celtic to face, also lost 3-0 away to Neftchi Baku of Azerbajan.

Ekranas the one to hope for on Friday

While their recent European form offers no grounds for complacency, Celtic should certainly be good enough to see off even the best of the remaining ten unseeded clubs, like Slask Wroclaw(Poland), Slovan Liberec(Czech Republic), Debrecen (Hungary),  and AEL Limassol(Cyprus). Apart from Molde and Neftchi Baku, the other 4 teams are likely to be Sheriff Tiripol of Moldova, Maribor from Slovenia, HJK Helsinki from Finland and Ekranas from Lithuania. None of these 6 should cause Celtic any great problems although Rangers supporters might argue that Maribor from Slovenia are a team to beware.

So the worst case scenario would be a beatable Slask Wroclaw or Slovan Liberec, at best a highly beatable  Ekranas from Lithuania.

If Celtic negotiate this first hurdle successfully they will take part in the 4th Qualifying Round, the PlayOff Round, victory in which carries with it a definite place in the Group Stages of the 2012-2013 Champions League. Even defeat in this Round guarantees  inclusion in the Europa League Group Stages. The Draw for this 4th Round takes place on   10th August 2012   with the first legs on 21st/22nd August and 2nd legs on 28th/29th August.

Partizan Belgrade the main danger in the 4th Round

Once again Celtic are certain to be seeded for this 4th Qualifying Round ensuring they would avoid the other 4 top ranked clubs, Anderlecht, Basel, Salsburg and Bate Borissov(Bulgaria). If the previous round went as anticipated according to the rankings, Celtic’s 5 potential opponents would be Dinamo Zagreb, Partizan Belgrade, CFR Cluj, MSK Zilinia(Slovakia) or Helsingborg (Sweden). After what Malmo did to Rangers last year, Celtic should be advised not to underestimate Helsingborg. Of the Eastern European alternatives, none of them are mugs. Both Dinamo Zagreb and Partizan Belgrade have European histories nearly as glorious as Celtic’s even if their current status is much lowlier. CFR Cluj are a stuffy team, hard to beat but MSK Zilinia are probably the weakest of the quintet and so should be Celtic’s preferred option.

Zilinia, the one to hope for in the 4th Round Draw

So it is likely that either the Swedish champions or a quartet of beatable Eastern European champions represent the barrier between Celtic and a resumption of what most Celtic fans consider  their rightful location, the Group Stages of the world’s premier Club competition.

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As for Motherwell, they will have to pursue the harder Non Champions Route  unseeded, indeed they are the lowest ranked of all the teams involved. In the Third Round they will have to face one of four seasoned European teams, Dynamo Kiev, Panathinaikos, FC Copenhagen and Fenerbahce. In the unlikely event Motherwell beat one of them, their 4th round potential opponents would include the other 3 plus Spartak Moscow and Braga. So it is unlikely Motherwell will be able to help Celtic by adding positively to Scotland’s club coefficient.

It is one of the less fortunate by-products of Rangers removal from Europe in disgrace that Celtic will have to carry that burden on their own and will almost certainly need a long Champions League run to avoid a situation whereby next year as almost certain Scottish Champions they will no longer be exempt from the Second Qualifying Round, meaning European action as soon as mid July 2013.

So while recent memories of opponents like Braga and Utrecht should prevent any complacency, it should be well within the capabilities of Neil Lennon’s current squad to overcome moderate opposition and qualify once more for the big time, the group Stages of the Champions League.


GreenGreenWorld is back after holiday ready for the new season

GreenGreenWorld(GGW) is back after its summer holidays and will be even more dedicated to bringing Celtic fans the football news and analysis from around the world likely to be of most interest to them in the new season to come.

Tomorrow. Celtic and the CL Draw

Tomorrow an article will be posted on GGW explaining the likely opposition Celtic will face in the two Qualifying Rounds of the Champions League as they seek to regain their rightful place in Europe’s elite by reaching the Group Stages.

Then will come articles bringing Celtic fans up to date with the fortunes of their favourite foreign clubs particularly Villarreal and St Pauli. After the disappointing events of season 2011-2012, both these favourite clubs will be facing critical campaigns in their respective Second Divisions. GGW will seek to explain why this unfortunate state of affairs came about and how well preparations are going to allow both clubs to reclaim their rightful place in their domestic top flights.

GGW will continue to provide regular reports from the Spanish Scene, with a focus on how a Guardiola-less Barcelona respond to losing their place at the top of the Spanish tree to Mourinho’s more cynical Real Madrid.

There will also be regular Letters from South America bringing Celtic fans up to date on the Copa Libertadores, recently won by Corinthians, and the Brazilian and Argentinian club scenes.

GGW can be followed on Twitter  at  @GGWCeltic  Please sign up to follow GGW to get all updates, news and analysis


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