The Champions League Trophy. How Celtic can qualify

Celtic’s 2nd place in the Scottish Premier League guaranteed them participation in the 3rd Qualifying Round(Non Champions Path) of the 2010-11 Champions League (see post of May “Celtic’s summer nightmare” for all the technical details). Of the 10 teams in this round the five with the best recent European club competition records will be seeded to avoid them having to meet each other. Of the 6 other teams already certain of participation in the 3rd Qualifying Round 4 of them (Zenit, Dynamo Kiev, Ajax and Braga) are ranked  above Celtic. The other two Gent and PAOK Salonika (who eliminated a bemused Olympiakos in the Greek play-offs) are ranked below Celtic.

The best bet for Celtic in terms of progressing to the Final Playoff Round is if they can keep that 5th seeded spot and avoid the 4 other top ranked teams.

This outcome requires a particular combination of events in the three countries (Turkey, Romania and Switzerland) where the second placed team are not yet known. In each case one of the contenders is ranked above Celtic but the others are not. Therefore for Celtic to be seeded, all three of these higher ranked teams must either finish first or third, but not second.

In Switzerland the outcome will be known on Sunday afternoon when Young Boys Berne play at home to Basle. Higher ranked Basle need only a draw to guarantee them the Championship which would leave Celtic ranked above second placed Young Boys. However if Young Boys were to win then Basle would be ranked above Celtic and Celtic therefore could not be one of the 5 seeded teams.

In Turkey Fenerbahce need to win at home against Trabzonspor to guarantee themselves the Turkish League. However failure to win may open up the Championship to Bursaspor. Since Fenerbahce are ranked above Celtic and Bursaspor are not, then Celtic fans must hope Fenerbahce clinch the Turkish League on Sunday.

The situation in the third country Romania is more complicated. Cluj have almost certainly clinched the league title with their win on Saturday but the key to Celtic chances lies in the battle for second place. Currently that spot is occupied by Unirea Urziceni the team that humbled Rangers in this season’s Champions League. They are ranked above Celtic so if they finish in second place then Celtic cannot be one of the 5 seeded teams.

The Romanian Tims, Timisoara can do Celtic a big favour

The only two teams that can stop this outcome, by finishing above Unirea, are Timisoara and Vaslui. So come on the Tims, do us a favour. The Romanian league is not due to finish for another week but could be resolved on Monday night if Unirea win and Timisaora and Vaslui do not.

So in summary, for Celtic to be the 5th seeded team, they need Basle and Fenerbahce to win their leagues, and Unirea to finish third. In that event, Celtic’s first opponents would come from a quintet of Young Boys Berne, Bursaspor, Gent, Paok and Timisoara or Vaslui. All of these 5 possible opponents are beatable. However if Celtic are not seeded, then their list of opponents becomes Zenit and Ajax, and the three highest ranked teams  present from Fenerbahce, Basle, Unirea, Dynamo Kiev and Braga. The best option from this route is that  Celtic end up with Unirea or Braga as their opponents. Neither of them would be easy but they are still better options than the other three seeds.

Can Celtic make the next round draw?

Assuming that Celtic do get through this opening qualifying round the picture is now clearer about who they might face in the final Play-off Round. On Saturday night Sevilla and Auxerre joined Werder Bremen and Spurs as the 4 sides from the big 5 leagues to have confirmed their places in the last 10. On Sunday Sampdoria are likely to join them as the Italian representatives, although Palermo could replace them if Sampdoria lose at home to Napoli. Sevilla, Werder and Spurs are ranked above Celtic. Zenit and Ajax will be the other two seeded teams if they win the first ties. It would require a far-fetched combination of events for Celtic to be the opponents of Auxerre who are likely to be by far the weakest team in this group of 10. It is much more likely they will get one of the 5 probable seeds mentioned above.

The response of Celtic fans to the GGW post of 6th May explaining the possible options was that very few were optimistic that Celtic would make it through two qualifying rounds to the Group Stages. In a collective outbreak of realism most Celtic supporters saw the Europa League as the much more likely and indeed desirable  forum for Celtic for next season. If Celtic are knocked out in the 3rd Qualifying Round then they will get a seeded place in the Final Playoff Round for the Europa League Group Stages. If they get to the Final Playoff Round of the Champions League but then lose, they will as last season get a guaranteed place in the Europa League Group Stages. Even at this stage Liverpool, Manchester City, Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Porto must be among the favourites for the 2010-2011 version.

After last night’s amazing games in Spain Mallorca and Getafe were confirmed in the two definite La Liga Europa League places. As a writer of football fiction I can assure you no football fiction writer could get away with inventing what Sevilla did last night, scoring the winning goal in the 94th minute with only 10 men to clinch their own Champions League place and leave a stunned Mallorca broken hearted.

Villarreal who gifted Zaragoza a 3 goal start then came back to 3-3 and missed a 90th minute sitter could only finish 7th. It would appear from what UEFA have told the club, that Villarreal can still qualify for the Europa League if Sevilla beat Atletico Madrid in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey Spanish Cup Final. Atletico would then get a place direct in the Group Stages as Holders. Failing that outcome Villarreal would have to hold on to the hope that Mallorca’s debts get them disqualified from Europe for next season.