Keane from hero

Last night’s victory by Spurs over Manchester City not only ensured the London club 4th place in the Premiership and entry to the 2010-2011 Champions League, it also set up a nightmare scenario for Celtic fans. It is now quite possible that Celtic could be knocked out of the qualification process for the Champions  League by a goal from their current superstar Robbie Keane. If that nightmare scenario comes to fruition remember you heard it first here, on GGW (but don’t shoot the messenger!)

to Villian

Celtic fans are understandably keen to know which clubs are likely to stand between their team and entry to the Group Stages of the 2010-2011 Champions League. In recent years degrees in mathematics and quantum physics have been required to understand the complicated formulaes involved in the preliminary qualifying processes. SISIF the Institute which does such work for GGW, has had to recruit two university mathematics students, the famous McLeay brothers , to help ensure it understands these matters and interprets them correctly. The bad news is that the process has become even more complicated over the past two seasons, but Green Green World will try to explain the possibilities in simple terms.

There are two separate sets of co-efficients used in determining this process. The country co-efficients based on the performances of all that countries clubs in European competition over the past 5 years determine the rankings of every European nation and thereby the numbers of clubs they are entitled to at each stage of both the Champions League and the Europa League qualifying processes.

Then there are the individual club co-efficients based on the performances of each club in European competitions. These determine which clubs are seeded, and therefore kept separate, at each stage of the qualification process.

The Champions League Trophy

Michel Platini’s obsession with putting the Champions back into the Champions League has made Celtic’s task of qualifying for the Group Stages of the 2010-2011 version much harder than it otherwise would have been previously. Platini came into the job of UEFA President with a stated determination to restrict the Champions League to only national champions, as it had been in the days of the European Cup. However a combination of commonsense and economic realities meant that the major clubs in the bigger leagues were never going to vote for fewer places for themselves and his original purist notion was quickly shown to be a non-starter.

However Platini is a very determined trier and he quietly pushed through changes for season 2009-2010 which increased the likelihood of Champions of middle-lower rated European nations qualifying for the Group Stages at the expense of runners-up of the middle ranked nations. Ironically in view of his original aim, he increased the guaranteed places to the most powerful nations with the third placed clubs in England, Italy and Spain now guaranteed an automatic Group Stage place. So Arsenal, AC Milan and Valencia will not have a qualifying tie to play this year but go straight through to the Group Stage. To accommodate this increase, the number of automatic Group Stage places was increased from 16 to 22. For 2010-2011 these 22 clubs will compromise the top three from England, Spain and Italy; the top two from Germany France and Russia; and the champions from Ukraine, Netherlands Romania Portugal Turkey Greece and Scotland. Rangers scraped into the direct Group Stage qualification only because since both Finalists Bayern Munich and Inter Milan have already qualified as above, no place needs to be reserved for the holders.

Champions Path

Of the remaining 10 places, 5 have been reserved for the 39 champions of the countries ranked 14th-53rd in UEFA’s 5 year national co-efficient list. These 39 clubs will take part in what is known as the Champions Path. In this path, the four lowest ranked Champions will play-off in the First Qualifying Round, with the two winners joining the next 32 ranked champions in the Second Qualifying Round. The 17 winners from the Second Qualifying Round will then be joined by the champions of Belgium, Switzerland and Denmark for two further knockout rounds. The Third Qualifying Round will see the numbers reduced to 10, and then comes the Play-off Round, from which will emerge the 5 qualifiers for the group stages.

Of these 39 Champions, only Anderlecht of Belgium have a strong record of qualification for the Group Stages of the Champions League and the other 4 qualifiers are likely to be clubs inferior in strength and recent Champions League record to Celtic.

Best-Placed Path

At the same time as this qualification process is underway, there will be a Best Placed Path contest for the remaining 5 places. Five clubs, the 4th placed teams from England, Spain and Italy along with the 3rd placed teams from Germany and France are given a direct place in the Play-off Round. The 10 clubs formed by the third placed team from Russia and the 9 second placed teams from Ukraine, Netherlands, Romania, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Scotland, Belgium and Switzerland meet in the Third Qualifying round with the 5 winners joining the 5 direct placed clubs in the Play-off Round

Of these 10 clubs which include Celtic, the 5 with the highest UEFA Club Co-efficient will be seeded so they cannot meet each other. Once the 5 qualifiers from this 3rd Qualifying Round are known, then again for the Playoff Round the top 5 co-efficient clubs from the ten remaining will be seeded. At this stage with so many of the final placings still to be decided, it is not possible to work out who the seeded teams will be. Celtic’s record over the past 5 years will probably not be good enough to have them as a seeded team for the Third Qualifying Round, and even if they are, they will not necessarily remain a seeded team for the Play-off Round.

So who are likely to be the 9 other clubs Celtic join in the Third Qualifying Round. Definitely in are Zenit St Petersburg, Ajax Amsterdam, Dynamo Kiev, Braga from Portugal, Bruges and Olympiakos. Two of  the other 3 will most likely be Bursaspor from Turkey and Basle  assuming as is very likely Fenerbahce and Young Boys Berne hold onto their existing leads. The third club will come from Romania where the situation is more complicated. CFR Cluj are likely to be Champions but the second place is currently held by Unirea Urziceni under pressure  from Steaua, Timisoera and Vasliu. It would be interesting to see if Celtic could do better against Unirea than Rangers did.

Dynamo Kiev, Zenit,  Ajax and Olympiakos are all ranked above Celtic so Celtic must pray Fenerbahce win the Turkish League, other results go their way and Celtic sneak into 5th seeded place. All 4 guaranteed seeded teams would fancy themselves to beat Celtic but none of the other 5 need cause Celtic any great fear,  although the ghost of Artmedia will always serve as a warning against complacency.

If Celtic survive the Third Qualification Round then they and the 4 other survivors would be joined by the  5 clubs from the top 5 countries. Spurs have now guaranteed themselves the English place but in the other 4 countries it still has to be decided. In Germany it is likely to be Werder Bremen that qualify although Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund still have an outside chance. Spain and Italy have direct contests between Sevilla and Mallorca, and Sampdoria and Palermo respectively. France is the most complicated of all with Auxerre, Lille, Montpellier, Lyon and even Bordeaux still in the running.

So for Celtic the best possible draws would be a Third Qualification Round tie against Braga, or Bruges or Bursaspor or Basle or Unirea. The worst would be a tie against Zenith, Dynamo Kiev, Olympiakos, Ajax or Fenerbahce.

For the Play-off Round the best option would be a tie against Mallorca or Palermo or Lille, the worst scenario would be Spurs or Sevilla or Lyon or Werder.

Here are the dates to watch for, for those Celtic fans hoping to follow their team through the qualification process.

The draw for this Third Qualifying Round takes place on 16th July 2010, with the legs on27/28 July and 3rd/4th August.

Champions League draw

The draw for the Playoff Round takes place on 6th August 2010, with the legs on 17/18 and 24/25 August.

If Celtic were to lose their 3rd Qualifying Round tie they would be entered into the Play-off Round for the Europa League, likely as one of the top seeds. If Celtic were to lose in the Play-off Round stage of the Best Placed Path, they would be entered straight into the Group Stages for the  Europa League. So it is likely that even if Celtic do not reach the Group Stages of the Champions League this coming season they will again be in the Group Stages of the Europa League

Green Green World will provide fuller information in the next few weeks as all the qualifiers become known and the effects of the seeding system become clearer. GGW will also provide detailed background information on Celtic’s opponents in both the 3rd Qualifying Round and the Play-off Round.