Are Scottish clubs set to have their shortest ever stint in Europe?

by Joseph OBrien

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Dundee United are already a goal down following their defeat to Polish runners-up Slask Wroclow in the 2nd Qualifying round of the Europa League.

Rangers will face two qualifying rounds just to reach the group stages of the Champions’ League where a whole new challenge will then await them.

And Celtic and Hearts both face potentially tricky ties in their Europa League campaigns, with Hearts requiring to negotiate two qualifiers to Celtic’s one.

Scottish sides, barring both Celtic and Rangers in recent seasons to a degree, have struggled in European competition. Indeed the record of early round defeats to sides described as European minnows vastly outweighs victories against the so called giants.

But the 2011/12 season might end up being the worst in recent memory in terms of European adventures for Scottish clubs.

As above, Dundee United already find themselves fighting for their European futures after a narrow defeat in Poland. They play the second leg of that tie at Tannadice tonight (THURS, 20/7/11) knowing they could be out of Europe before the bigger clubs on the continent get into their pre-season stride.

Rangers found out on Tuesday that they will face Swedes Malmo in their first qualifier for the prestigious Champions League. Malmo, who won the Swedish championship last season but who are mid-table in their division this campaign, saw off the challenge of HB Torshavn 3-1 on aggregate to set up the clash with the Ibrox club.

Ally McCoist’s side – who have enjoyed a topsy turvy close season since securing their 54th championship on the SPL’s final day – should have enough in their armoury to see of the Swedes.

But it is in the next round – the Champions’ League playoff – that they might come up short.

Potentially, that could include a tricky clash with sides such as Greeks Panathinaikos, Ukrainians Dynamo Kiev, Russians Ruben Kazan or Portuguese cracks Benfica. Victory in that playoff will mean a first, sole crack at the Champions’ League for McCoist…….with defeat leaving Rangers with a place in the Europa League group stage as one of the ten playoff losers.

In terms of Hearts, as with other sides in Scotland outwith the Old Firm venturing into Europe, their European record hasn’t exactly forced people to sit up and take notice. Their best run in the competition in recent times came in 2004 – then known as the UEFA Cup – when they reached the group stage only to be drawn with Feyenoord, Basle, Schalke 04 and Ferencvaros. After a shock 2-1 over Basle midway through the group after previous defeats to Feyenoord (3-0) and Shalke (0-1), they had to win against Hungarians minnows Ferencvaros to have any chance of progressing. However, they were defeated 1-0 at Murrayfield, in a night that saw then Hearts’ manager John Robertson boot future Jambos’ gaffer Csaba Laslo up the bum!

Turning to Celtic’s European record under Neil Lennon and it also doesn’t fill you with confidence.

Yes the Northern Irishman has brought the “thunder” back to Parkhead and has a side filled with graft and creative flair, but thumpings at the hands of Portuguese side SC Braga – 3-0 in Portugal – and Dutch mid-table outfit FC Utrecht – 4-0 in Holland – last year in both the Champions’ and Europa Leagues means they have a lot to prove on the European stage this year.

Celtic have yet to learn their fate in the Europa League, although Hearts know they face Paks or Tromso in the next round with the score finely poised at 1-1 from the first leg.

But if all goes wrong for Scottish clubs – firstly for Dundee United tonight – then we could be left with just Rangers – if they defeat Malmo in the first place – being left to fight for the scraps of the Europa League just as the big boys of European football wake from their summer slumber.

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  • Kevlat

    Rangers can’t get ANY of those teams you’ve listed! Rangers are in the Champions side of the draw whilst those 3 are in the Non-Champions side.

    The toughest teams Rangers can face in the next round would probably be Copenhagen, Rosenborg, Genk & Dynamo Zagreb. Fair enough still pretty tough games, but even myself as a Celtic fan would like to think Rangers are probably the best team in the Champions side of the draw.

    And well, as I mentioned I’m a Celtic fan, so that brings me to my next point. You’re writing off Celtic based on the fact that when they had a bunch of players who had barely played being thrown straight in at the deep in they suffered a couple of heavy defeats (one against the Europa League finalists from last season).

    The squad has come along MASSIVELY since then and with experience of playing alongside each other, you can barely even compare them to the group of players they were at this stage last season. Admittedly Celtic will have to improve their away record to sustain a good run this season, which has been notoriously poor for many seasons now. However they still have a very strong home record, even under Neil Lennon with 2 wins out of 2 in Europe at home last season.

  • Kevlat

    *barely played together being thrown straight in at the deep end when they suffered a couple of heavy defeats.

    My typing failed me a bit there…

  • Joseph O’Brien

    Hi Kevlat,

    Cheers for the feedback.

    Are you sure on the Champions’ League? I checked, checked again and double checked again and that was my understanding of the draw, unless I have totally got the wrong end of the stick!! Anyway, the point I was making is still valid (even if we need to swap the teams a bit!!)

    In terms of Celtic, I agree with you totally. This is a different side to that of last year in terms of experience etc, but I can only go on the facts and the facts were that they suffered those defeats against Braga and Utrecht and need to improve. However, I do agree with you that Celtic should be better equipped this year to deal with Europe.

    Scottish clubs have a dismal record in Europe, my article here was just to highlight every side’s chances and what COULD happen in the next few weeks. After all, Scotland are the experts in glorious failures!!

  • Kevlat

    It’s my understanding from the Wiki page that that’s the way the Champs Lge draw works:

    Not that Wiki is the most trustworthy source obviously lol

    But I seem to recall Celtic going through something similar a few seasons ago when they ended up playing Arsenal in the qualifiers because they weren’t in the “champions side” of the draw.

    I do agree that Scottish clubs aren’t the threat they used to be in Europe and fair enough, there’s every chance things could go very wrong, very fast for them. But I’m trying to remain optimistic that Celtic (and dare I say it, even Rangers) have a good run in Europe this season to try to improve Scotland’s co-efficient.

    Oh, and looks like it’s 1 down 3 to go already after tonight, so things are off to a good start lol!

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