Liverpool Look The Only Assured British Qualifiers Tonight

Tonight’s Europa League Qualifying ties makes grim reading for British fans, with only Liverpool likely to progress with ease following their 2-0 win  against Rabotnicki Skopje. The only other side with a realistic progression chance is Motherwell who’s manager Craig Brown seems to have got his tactics right in Europe this year and having gained a credible away draw in Norway they know that a 0-0 draw at home to Aalesunds FK will see them through. Motherwell have a full squad to choose from and hopefully they will not do anything too stupid and advance to the final knockout stage.

The other British sides still involved are:

Shamrock Rovers who have done Ireland proud in holding Italian Giants Juventus to only 2-0 in their home leg, and they will have a night to remember in Turin. Even if they get hammered it is great to see them reach this stage.

Scottish Premier League Hibs have a mountain to climb following their 3-0 defeat NK Maribor,  as do Cliftonville who trail CSKA Sofia 3-0, and Welsh Premier League side Bangor City who at 8-2 down will be hoping to salvage a bit of pride at best.  It will be a major surprise if any of these sides make it through.

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Fenerbahce & Celtic Both Exit Champions League

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In a night of few surprises the main headlines were reserved for the early demise of Glasgow Celtic and Turkish side Fenerbahce, both of whom would have expected to progress prior to the competitions start.

Celtic who had a mountain to climb after an embarrassing performance in Portugal at least put on a slightly better performance against Braga, however their opponents came with a solid game plan and at times Celtic were forced into hitting hopeful long balls up the field. The 2-1 win at least salvaged some pride and they will now drop into the Europa League knock out round where they could meet some stiff opposition.

Fenerbahce were expected to come through easily enough against Swiss side Young Boys of Bern who were lucky to escape the home leg with a 2-2 draw. However a goal from Cameroon born striker Henri Bienvenu a few minutes before half time was enough to take them through. Fenerbahce were reduced to 10 men in the second half and they will also now play in the Europa League Knockouts.

The most entertaining match of the night saw Ajax progress thanks to away goals following an exciting 3-3 draw at PAOK Saloniki where Uruguayan World Cup Star Luis Suarez again grabbed a goal. Ajax will have to play a lot better than this if they are to make much of an impression inthe group stages, assuming they get through the knockouts.

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Celtic v Braga Can The Bhoys Do It?

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After their disaster in Portugal last week things looked pretty black for Celtic, however their encouraging Emirates Cup performances may just have given them a glimmer of hope going into tonight’s game. So can they realistically overturn a 3-o deficit?

In a word No, Braga are too good a team to let a three goal lead slip and they will probably shut up shop and hope to snatch an away goal on the break. However Celtic should at least give their fans something to cheer about and they are capable of winning the game but not by a wide enough margin. Sorry hoops fans it looks like a short lived European Champions campaign again this season. Still this might improve their chances in the SPL.

As for Braga – well no one will fancy meeting them in the knockout game and they could prove to be a handful in the group stages should they get there.

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The New Saints Bow Out Of The Champions League

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Welsh champions The New Saints (TNS) lost 3-0 in their second leg tie against Belgian Giants Anderlect last night, but can still be proud of their seasons achievements.

The tie was effectively over after the first leg which TNS lost 3-1 and when Tom de Sutter grabbed the opening goal and in the second half Belgian U-21 international Romelu Lukaku came on as substitute and scored their other two goals.

To their credit Anderlect fans turned out in numbers to watch the game so giving the Welsh side a night to remember, playing in front of a 21,000 crowd. Its a shame that their own fans didn’t give the club the support it deserved in the home leg where the attendance was disappointing.

So TNS will now drop into the Europa League Playoff matches and here they have the chance of drawing the likes of Manchester City, Aston Villa,or Porto. If they do get a plum draw I hope the people of Wales are a bit less lethargic and The New Saints get the bumper home crowd their superb efforts deserve.

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Scottish League Cup Kicks Off

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The Scottish League Cup (CIS Cup) 1st round kicked off this weekend and unusually all the ties were settled at the first attempt with only Elgin v Ayr United requiring extra time. Last seasons surprise Scottish Cup finalists Ross County progressed to the second round thanks to a good win over Livingstone and The only Premier League entry at this stage Inverness Caledonian Thistle had an easy 3-0 win over Queens Park; although they might have hoped for a bigger crowd than the 1,099 who showed up.

The  Scottish Div 1 sides generally won through with the only losers being newly promoted Cowdenbeath who lost 2-1 at Clyde and Stirling Albion who will be slightly disapointed at losing at home to Forfar. Both of these sides will probably find life hard in the coming season.

The biggest win of the day came at Stranrear where a crowd of 470 witnessed Morton outclass their lower league opponents winning 7-1.

The full results were:

Inverness CT 3-0 Queen’s Park

Annan 0-1 Partick Thistle

Clyde 2-1 Cowdenbeath

Albion 0-1 Airdrie Utd

Dunfermline 5-2 Arbroath

Stranraer 1-7 Morton

Dundee 3-0 Montrose

Raith Rovers 4-1 East Fife

Stirling Albion 1-2 Forfar

Peterhead 1-0 Berwick

Ross County 2-1 Livingston

Stenhousemuir 1-3 Brechin

Elgin 3-2 Ayr Utd

Queen of South 5-1 Dumbarton

East Stirling   1 – 2   Alloa

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Celtic Give Their Fans Hope With Strong Showing In Emirates Cup

Despite Losing 3-2 to Arsenal in the Emirates Cup Celtic have shown sufficient improvement in this much maligned tournament to indicate that the Champions League tie against Braga might not be over just yet.

Celtic looked a different team in this weekends games and this adds support to the call for the Scottish Premier league to start earlier so allowing their clubs, who are typically involved in the qualifying games to have a better chance. Many of their early stage rivals have competitive games under their belts and this is starting to show as the once relatively successful Scottish Clubs are now floundering.

An earlier start could also allow a short winter break, something of great benefit given the typically worse weather conditions the Country suffers. Hopefully some action will be taken before 2011-12 season as Scotland are in real danger of losing the second Champions League place if their poor results continue.

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British Clubs Have A Mixed Night In Europa League

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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.

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Liverpool Coast through 1st Leg of Europa Tie

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.

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Liverpool Take a Gamble In Europa League Qualifier

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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

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Celtic Produce Horror Show In Portugal

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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.

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