Friday, 2 March 2012

Sports Picks of 2011, Part 5 - August 25th

Europa League: Qualifying Round – Sion 3, Celtic 1 (Sion win 3-1 on aggrigate), Rangers 1, Maribor 1 (Maribor win 3-2 on aggrigate), Tottenham 0, Hearts 0 (Tottenham win 5-0 on aggregate)

Scottish Football in 2011 was in full car crash mode, while 2012 has not started any better with the news of Rangers.

There were so many low points, those low points always seemed to surround Neil Lennon - officially the most divisive figure in Scottish Football since Souness (and no, I’m not blaming him for anything).  The Old Firm Scottish Cup replay could have so easily made this list.  What supplanted it was the night that Scottish Football should take a note of.  The night three teams went out of Europe… at the qualifying stage.

Of the three, Hearts had the difficult task of getting past Tottenham Hotspur.  The week previously, they had lost 5-0 in the home leg so were effectively out already.  This should not excuse Hearts rotten performance – all five Spurs goals were down to poor defensive errors – Ok the sort that the likes of Kilmarnock or St Johnstone are never in a position to exploit but they were still bad defensive errors.

The Old Firm though embarrassed themselves, the by-product of having two inexperienced managers at the helm im afraid. Holding Sion at home, Celtic should have gone for an away goal early and then put the pressure on Sion.  What happened was that Celtic conceded an early penalty, saw a man sent off thus contriving to lose the game in the first 10 minutes.  Celtic did get a reprieve with Sion fielding an ineligible player, and took their place in a Europa League group with Athletico Madrid, Udinese and Rennes.  From Celtic’s point of view, though they lost out on qualification to the knock-out stages, the experience for both the players and, more crucially, the management team will have been invaluable.

The same could not be said of Rangers.  Losing to Maribor away was bad enough (with the bonus of an away goal), but being held at home by the same team does not show any promise for the new season.  All Rangers had to do was win 1-0 and they were through.  Instead they conceded with about half an hour left of the tie, leaving them looking for two goals to get to extra time.  Not good game management.  To rub salt in the wounds for Scottish Football, on the same night – Shamrock Rovers made the group stages.

All of which is worrying for Scottish Football.  Not only are Scottish football teams not good enough, but they are depriving themselves of the chance to garner experience of European Football.  Unfortunately, there looks to be no signs of any changes being made.

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