So where does that leave us in terms of European qualification for next season? What chance Champions League football? The winners of the SPL will almost certainly go straight into the group stage; the only way this won’t happen is if the winners of this season Champions League haven’t already qualified through their own league. Looking at the teams still left in the tournament Lyon, Porto & Sevilla may need to qualify or miss out, Stuttgart & Fiorentina have next to no chance and CSKA Moscow have already failed to qualify. Does anybody really think that this year’s Champions League winners will come from one of those 6 teams? Therefore we can pretty much safely say that the SPL Champions will be there.


What about the runners-up in the SPL then? What fate lies in store for them? Well, just like last season, they will have two qualifiers to negotiate in order to get into the lucrative group stage. The draw for the first ‘Non-Champions’ qualifier next season will feature the nine runners-up from Ukraine, Holland, Romania, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Scotland, Belgium & Switzerland, along with Zenit St.Petersburg, who have already qualified, having finished 3rd in Russia. The teams who currently fill these positions are, Shakhtar Donetsk, Twente, Unirea, Braga, Fenerbache, Olympiakos, Celtic, Brugge & Basel. Now, we are only in the last week of February and a few of these teams will no doubt change but they would only be replaced by the likes of, Dynamo Kiev, Benfica, Galatasaray, Panathinaikos and teams of that calibre, so it is clear to see what the SPL runners-up will be up against.

So let’s just say that these teams stay in their respective places, for arguments sake and simply for the sake of this little article, here’s how the draw would line up, with the teams current Euro ranking in brackets.

Seeded Teams – Shakhtar (16), Zenit (22), Olympiakos (29), Fenerbache (33), FC Basel (38)

Unseeded – Braga (46), Celtic (50), Brugge (55), Twente (81), Unirea (103)

The five winners would then go into the final qualifier along with the teams finishing 4th in England, Spain & Italy, as well as the teams finishing 3rd in Germany & France. The clubs who at present hold these places are, Tottenham, Sevilla, Juventus, Schalke & Lille. Again these teams may well change but only to be replaced by the likes of Liverpool, Valencia, Sampdoria, Hamburg & Lyon. The likely draw and seedings for this round are too varied to speculate on at this stage, as a great deal will depend on who has made it through from the previous round but the current rankings of the teams sitting in these positions just now are. Tottenham (28), Sevilla (5), Juventus (26), Schalke (32) & Lille (43), as you can see, none of them are below Celtic in the rankings.

There you have it then my fellow tims, once again it would seem that Runners-Up in the SPL will be playing in the Europa League next season, with Thursday night football, poor attendances and everything else that brings or more to the point, doesn’t bring.

This raises another point…….

UEFA decided that from this season onwards the UEFA Cup would change its format and be known as The Europa League, it was designed to try and raise the profile of the tournament. It got a brand new logo, its own nice wee tune – which I bet none of you could hum, if asked – never the less it is still shunted out to a Thursday night. Only last week someone in my work told me they would be putting a coupon on for the Wednesday & Thursday night matches, as there were 12 games being played on the Thursday. “12!!” I exclaimed. “Who’s playing on a Thursday night?” I asked. Only to be told it was the Europa League. I’d forgotten.

The Europa League is simply the poor dessert after Tuesday & Wednesday night’s main course of Champions League football and you know what it’s like if you’ve eaten too much main course? You fancy a dessert before you sit down but if you’ve eaten too much, you just can’t be bothered with dessert. You’ll have a look at the menu to see if there’s anything you fancy but in the end you think… “Naw… I’ll just leave it this time”

If UEFA want to raise the profile of The Europa League, then play it on a Tuesday and have The Champions League on a Wednesday and Thursday. To over use the dinning analogy and I make no apologies for this. If you go for a meal you’re far more likely to eat a starter, you probably shouldn’t, than a dessert you no longer can and, to over, over use the dinning theme. When you’ve had that starter, you’ll still finish your main course, even if it fills you up just that little bit too much.

There is no chance of this happening though, as the big clubs just wouldn’t wear it. They’ll not fancy playing on a Thursday night, even although many of them now play on a Sunday following a Champions League midweek game. I would still watch the Champions League if it was on a Thursday night but often watch something else when the Europa League is on. Moving to a Tuesday night would not cure all its ills and many would still not bother with it but surely it’s worth a try?

They don’t play the 3rd/4th Play-Off in the World Cup Finals the day after the Final; it just wouldn’t make any sense. It probably doesn’t get fantastic viewing figures played the day before the Final but what kind of figures would it get played the following day?

One final point on Euro qualification……

As has been widely reported over the last few days, Scotland dropped from 15th to 16th in UEFA’s country ranking for European qualification on Thursday night, thus losing the Champions League place available for next season’s SPL Runners-Up and forcing next season’s Champions to play 3 qualifiers in order to reach the Group Stage. In The Europa League (a cup of no importance some say) on Thursday, Standard Liege beat Salzburg 3-2, Brugge beat Valencia 1-0 and Anderlecht drew away in Bilbao. These results giving Belgium the extra point required to leap frog Scotland by just 0.109 of a point into fifteenth place. So now tell me the Europa League is not worth progressing in.

Celtic & Rangers carrying the can for Scottish football in Europe has finally caught up with us and only some decent runs from our clubs in The Europa League are going to get Scotland back up the table. Some good displays from Scottish clubs next season will quickly restore that lost place, some poor displays and it will be gone for a long, long time. Fortunately Scotland will start in 14th place next season, with an excellent chance of moving up a couple of places, should they out perform Romanian & Danish clubs but an equally poor showing will see them slip back down again.

Much depends on who qualifies for next season, outwith ourselves & Rangers. I cannot believe that the SFA have still not got rid of the rule that lets the Scottish Cup Runners-Up into The Europa League. When you see that we still have Dundee, Raith Rovers and Ross County left in the Cup, it was worrying for me to find out today they hadn’t scrapped that rule, after saying in 2006, when Gretna qualified via that route, “it will be the last time that this will happen”. It is highly possible we could have a Raith v Ross Semi-Final and if it’s us or Rangers in the final, then into Europe they would go.

The following is taken from a report on the BBC website, dated 15th June 2008 – “SPL Secretary Iain Blair has contacted UEFA to request that in future the Scottish Cup runners-up do not qualify. Should the winners of the Scottish Cup have already qualified for Europe, the SPL would like to see the highest-placed SPL team that has missed out on Europe take the UEFA Cup spot. In the past three seasons, Gretna, Dunfermline and Queen of The South have qualified for Europe as Scottish Cup Final losers” Well that will be alright then, won’t it? No it won’t, because Falkirk qualified in the same way last season and it could happen again this season, nothing to date has been done about it.

Anyway back to Sunday’s match and Celtic, please,  a victory.