25 May 2008

Scotland in Europe

With the football season now over - and with only a month until the Intertoto Cup starts - it's time to take a look at Scotland's hopes for European glory next season:

Celtic, having snatched the title at the last possible minute, go straight into the Champions' League Group Stage, where a Pot 3 seeding awaits, unless eight of the nine teams who are both seeded above them and have to play a qualifier fail to reach the Groups. Those nine teams are Rangers, Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona, Schalke, Juventus, Marseille, Steaua Bucharest and Panathinaikos so Hoops fans shouldn't hold their breath. They should instead do what they have taken to doing lately, and use their breath to either praise Gordon Strachan to the hilt or call for his execution depending on their most recent result.

Rangers, having simply faced overload, go into the Champions' League Second Qualifying Round, where they will be seeded, and so potentially face a tie against the likes of Beitar Jerusalem, or any number of sides from the First Qualifying Round (personally I'd like to see the Gers take on, and gub, FBK Kaunas, just to see if we can made Vladimir Romanov's head explode!). Anyway, the strongest potential opponent is Rapid Vienna, and they too could end up seeded depending on who wins the Hungarian League. If Rapid Vienna are seede, then UEFA consider NK Domzale of Slovenia to be the strongest side in the mix, and they too would have to play a First Qualifying Round tie.

Anyway, assuming Rangers get past their Second Qualifying Round opponents, then the Third Qualifying Round will see the Light Blues seeded again, only facing tougher unseeded opponents. These include Atlético Madrid, Slavia Prague, Galatasaray and, if they get through two qualifiers, Celtic's one-time conquerors, Artmedia Bratislava.

Getting through this tie would give Rangers a passport to the Group Stage and Pot 3, unless two from Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona, Schalke 04 and Juventus get knocked out in the Third Qualifying Round. In the unlikely event that that happens, then Rangers end up in Pot 2.

And for the record, Pot 1 definitely contains Man United (eek!), Chelsea (depends on who their manager is, I suppose), Lyon (eek!), Inter Milan (argh!) and Real Madrid (yikes!). Pot 2 definitely contains AS Roma (hmmm), Porto, Werder Bremen and Sporting Lisbon. Problem is, it's also likely to contain Bayern Munich, PSV Eindhoven and Villarreal.

(Incidentally, if the Third Qualifying Round goes less well for Rangers than they would hope, a seeded place in the First Round of the UEFA Cup beckons, and more than likely a place in Pot 1 of the UEFA Group stage draw.)

Anyway. Motherwell take the spot in the First Round proper of the UEFA Cup, but sadly, won't be seeded, so potential opponents include, but are not limited to, AC Milan, Seville, Valencia, Benfica, Tottenham, Ajax, Everton, Paul Le Guen's Paris Saint-Germain (where you'd have to fancy Motherwell, given PLG's track record agianst SPL teams) and Feyenoord.

Queen of the South, as the losing Cup Finalists, go into the Second Qualifying Round, and curiously, will be seeded. They'll face a team advancing from the First Qualifying Round, and barring any upsets, will be up against opponents from Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Latvia or Lithuania. If they get through this (and judging by their Cup performances that's not as far-fetched as you might think), then they'll join Motherwell in the unseeded section of the UEFA Cup. Given Paul Le Guen's track record against First Division clubs, they'll fancy PSG as well.

Hibs complete the picture, in their Intertoto Cup capacity. Assuming they move past their opposition (and the draw is favourable), they will also be seeded in the UEFA Cup Second Qualifying Round and unseeded in the First Round proper.

And if any of the three UEFA Cup teams do make it into the Group Stages, they're pretty much doomed to Pot 5, unless there's a lot, and I mean a lot, of other upsets.

So on paper, it looks like just the Old Firm in Europe after Christmas, and even then, more than likely in the UEFA Cup. How about an OF UEFA Cup Final? If they thought Manchester was rough, just wait till they see that...

[EDIT: I did, in my haste, forget to credit my usual source for these matters: the legend that is Bert Kassies. That said, although the work is entirely his, and I have simply distilled it for your delectation and delight, HW has a point: I do need to get out more. However, I live in on the arse-end of nowhere - so if I do wish to go anywhere, I find that the last means of transport home left half an hour before my arrival, and also I wear my geekery as a badge of honour. Just ask the guys at work!]

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