Liverpool apart things didn’t go too well for the remaining British sides in the Europa League qualifiers last night.
Motherwell managed a credible 1-1- draw away to Aalesunds FK, who had to rely on a last kick of the game penalty to salvage the draw. Motherwell dominated the possession and a repeat performance in the home leg should see them safely through to the next round.
The same cant be said for the other Scottish contenders Hibernian, who like Ceitic in the Champions league employed strange tactics which backfired badly. Hibs boss John Hughes opted to play Colin Nish as the lone front man probably looking to keep the game tight. However the outcome was nothing short of a disaster as the Slovenian side dominated play and were good value for their 3-0 win. The 10,000 crowd were treated to a good display of attacking football from NK Maribor and Josip Ilicic looked a good player, grabbing 2 of the goals he is currently an under 21 international and could be a player with a future.
Shamrock Rovers managed a creditable result only losing 2-0 to Italian giants who were in front after 3 minutes when Brazilian Amauri hit the first of his goals. His second in the 75th minute ensured that Juve will have few problems in the second leg. Still Shamrock have done really well to get to this stage and were rewarded with a nice crowd of 5800.
Unfortunately Welsh side Bangor City Portuguese side Maritimo were in merciless form and the final 8-2 score was just about right. Still Bangor did manage a spectacular goal from Nicky Ward which at one stage ensured the score was only 3-1. Bangor’s second goal came in the 90th minute courtesy of Eddie Jebb. There is little doubt that Maitimo will now progress but it has still been a good season for the Welsh Premier League , even if the gap between the bigger European leagues and them is still massive.
A double strike by David Ngog was enough to ensure Liverpool will take a comfortable 2-0 lead into their home leg against Rabotnicki in the Europa League third qualifying round.
This was Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson’s first competitive game in charge, and he took a bit of a chance in leaving out 10 of his World Cup stars, including captain Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Glen Johnson.
Liverpool opened the scoring thanks to a defensive mix up and however Ngog showed a lot more skill when scoring the second with a cool six-yard volley following a nice Martin Kelly cross.
Roy Hodgson has been critical of UEFA for making Liverpool play a qualifying game only 18 days after the World Cup however the decision is correct as it would not have been fair on the other teams had Liverpool been given special treatment just because they are a major club. Anyway Roy Hodgson has been vindicated in his decision making and the second leg at Anfield should now be pretty much a formality.
Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson has decided to take a largely reserve squad to Macedonia for their Europa League 3rd round tie against Rabotnicki Skopje tonight. If this works out it will be viewed as an inspired piece of management, but if not then Liverpool will have the embarrassment of not having a European campaign this season.
Of course this could be his aim as with the addition of Joe Cole Liverpool will be a much better team in 2010-11 and a place in the champions league is far more valuable to a club of their stature than Europa League glory. Still with there only being four trophies available to the top premier league clubs spurning one might not be the best idea.
Hopefully Liverpool’ reserves will be good enough to win this one.
The expected Liverpool squad will be:
Cavalieri, Aquilani, Agger, Jovanovic, Kyrgiakos, Lucas, Wilson, Ngog, Spearing, Darby, Shelvey, Kelly, Skrtel, Eccleston, Ayala, Hansen, Gulacsi, Amoo, Dalla Valle, Ince
Everything that is bad about Scottish football was on show as Celtic crashed to a devastating defeat against Portuguese side Braga last night. Celtic didn’t register a single shot on goal and were tactically inept playing Georgios Samaras as the lone striker in stifling heat. In fact the tactical aim appeared to be lets get a draw, a fact emphasised when Charlie Mulgrew picked up a booking for time wasting after only 4 minutes!
Overall Celtic looked like a bunch strangers and they will have to improve massively if they are going to progress.
The game its self was not good and the 12,295 crowd watched a game littered with fouls – most coming from Celtic, who also collected 4 yellow cards. Chances were few an far between but the best of what was created came from Braga who’s first goal came from the spot following a hand ball from Ki Sung-Yeung. In the second half Braga continued to look the more threatening but their second goal was almost entirely down to some shocking defending from new signing Charlie Mulgrew, who looked half asleep as Brazilian Alan skinned him down the wing before crossing for Echiejile who had an easy chance. Celtics night of horrors was completed when a poorly formed wall allowed Matheus to drive in the third with a nicely taken free kick.
Now Celtic will need a near miracle to progress, but will take some heart from Braga not being good travelers last season, and the fact they surely cant play that badly again.
Motherwell will have their hands full defensively tomorrow night when they face Norway’s Aalesunds FK who have a 6 foot 8 1/2″ striker Tor Hogne Aaroy leading their line. Although not an overly prolific scorer he is certainly going to cause problems in the air. Aalesunds are currently 4th in the Norwegian Tippeligaen and as such will have to be respected. Craig Brown is expected to name the same squad that beat Breidablik in Iceland last week but they will need to play a lot better than in that game if they are to advance to the next stage. Success for the Scottish clubs is becoming vital if they are to maintain their UEFA ranking. They are currently close to losing their second Champions League spot and given the parlous state of Scottish footballs finances that could have severe repercussions.
Celtics dismal European away form looks likely to continue as they trail in 1-0 down against Braga in the Champions League 3rd Qualifying round. I would like to say they will come back in the second half, but they are not playing well and if anything Braga look likely to add to their lead. Still with only 3 European away wins since 2001 this shouldn’t come as a major surprise to hoops fans. For the record the Braga goal came from a penalty by Osorio Alan following a hand ball by Sung-Yong Ki.
I fear the tie could end up being beyond Celtic if they play like this in the second half.
Despite a valiant effort it now looks highly unlikely that Northern Irish side Cliftonville will be advancing in the Europa League, due to CSKA Sofia grabbing two late goals in their 1st round tie.
Cliftonville were only 1-0 down with over 70 minutes on the clock, despite having been under almost constant pressure, and at this stage it looked like the Irish side could go into the home leg with a real chance. However as they started to tire first Brazilian Marcos Marquinhos and then Rumen Trifonov scored to give Cliftonville a mountain to climb in the second leg.
The score in no way flattered CSKA and had it not been for some heroic defending including a superb double goal-line clearance Ciaran Donaghy then the score could have been worse.
Welsh Champions The New Saints (TNS) lost 3-1 in their home leg against Belgian champions Anderlect in front of a disappointing crowd of only 2486. TNS were Behind after 7 minutes thanks to a goal by United States international Sacha Kljestan, and soon after they found themselves 2-0 down; effectively ending the tie.
Craig Jones gave the Welsh side brief hope when he made up for an earlier bad miss by smashing in Scott Ruscoe’s cross, but this only spurred Anderlect into further action and they made the game safe in the 73rd minute when Argentinian striker Martias Suarez scored their third.
Despite effectively being eliminated now TNS have done brilliantly to get this far and it is sad that the people of Wales have failed to get behind them in this historic occasion for the club. Hopefully such apathy will not be repeated in the second leg and the Anderlect fans will turn out to help boost The New Saints earning from their European Adventures.
Glasgow Celtic, who by their standards are having an indifferent spell of form have been handed a tough draw in the Champions League 3rd qualifying round, having to take on Portuguese league runners up Sporting Club Braga. Although not a widely known team outside of their home country Braga are past European winners having won the Inter Toto Cup in 2008-9 and last season recorded their highest ever league finish. Much of their success was down to their excellent home form, they won 14 of their 15 home games last season and only conceded 6 goals.
Celtic are poor European travelers and will probably be thankful for the fact the 1st leg is away, so letting them know what they need to achieve in the second leg. They will take some confidence from the fact that Braga lost 5-3 on aggregate to Hearts in 2004, and last season were soundly beaten by Swedish side IF Elfsborg at this stage.
However Braga have improved dramatically of late and with the addition of some talented Brazilian players they now have a squad which could make it to the group stages. If Celtic are to progress they will need to keep the away leg close and hope that a packed Parkhead crowd can roar them to victory, and given their current financial state failure is not an option as there is no Europa League group place for the losers of this one meaning another potential nerve racking playoff.
If you had told the connections of TNS 15 years ago when they were in the process of stepping up from Amateur status that in the new century they would be playing against Anderlect in the European Champions League 3rd qualifying round you might have been asked what you had been drinking. However on Tuesday night The New saints will be flying the flag for Wales when they take on the Belgian Giants at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground. Not that this will be their 1st big European night, having played Manchester City in the UEFA cup and most notably Liverpool in 2005. Despite being 3-0 down from the 1st leg in the home tie they gave Liverpool quite a battle with Steven Beck hitting a post and Marc Lloyd Williams having a goal controversially ruled out for offside. At this stage Liverpool were only 1-0 up on the night and although they eventually grabbed 2 late Steven Gerrard goals to make the score respectable TNS were never overawed.
Anderlect are the reigning Belgian champions finished the season with 5 wins and a draw. So providing they come with the right attitude should be far too strong for TNS, who will do well to hold out for a draw. Much as we would like to see them progress the bookies have probably got it right making the Belgians 1/4 to win in Wales. However TNS will be well pleased with a nice cash windfall, which should help them continue with their impressive progression as a professional club. Tickets are only £10 and they are giving 2000 kids tickets away free if you fancy watching the match ring 01978 262129 to see if there are any tickets left.