What Victory Over Barcelona Means For Celtic

Celtic sit in a comfortable and assured second place in their Champions League group, after last night bore witness to one of the greatest nights in the club’s illustrious 125-year  history.

Barcelona, arguably the best footballing side this world has ever seen, arrived in Glasgow, fully armed with Lionel Messi & Co., fully intent on taking three points back to the Catalan capital. In their way – an injury depleted Celtic squad.

What followed was, quite simply, one of the most breathtaking games of football ever to be played on Scottish soil. Make no mistake, this was a night of similar magnitude to even the most legendary of Celtic European nights, arguably falling short of only one; Lisbon 1967.

“The Celtic fans are very special and the club and the players can be very proud of them. They are the best I have ever heard and I am sure playing in front of a crowd like that can make a big difference for the players,” Andres Iniesta had said before the game.

He was most certainly proven right.

The wall of noise which greeted the players on arrival to the pitch was deafening, and the stadium-wide display of green and white Hoops and Celtic crosses, in honour of the anniversary milestone, was equally as impressive.

The decibels rose on a few occasions to the same fever pitch throughout the night: after twenty minutes when Victor Wanyama leapt highest to meet Charlie Mulgrew’s corner and bulleted the ball into the back of the net; and when Tony Watt  raced clear of the Barcelona defence and, with a composure far beyond his eighteen years, slid the ball effortlessly beyond Victor Valdes.

The noise reached an almighty crescendo as the full-time whistle blew, and feelings of relief, and disbelief, and joy, and ecstasy, and triumph permeated the entire stadium.

Down at pitch level, Celtic manager Neil Lennon held his head in his hands before running to meet his players on the field, stopping to embrace every one of them. They strode from the field with an understated, quiet satisfaction. Yet none of them had ever scaled such giddy heights in the game before.

Celtic had buried the demons of their trip to the Nou Camp a fortnight ago, when it had looked for so long that they were to achieve a draw in Spain, only for Barca to snatch victory in the final 30 seconds. There were momentary fears that lightning was about to strike twice last night as with only two minutes of injury time remaining, Lionel Messi finally beat Fraser Forster – La Gran Marulla (The Great Wall) as one Spanish newspaper named him this morning.

Lennon had said of coming so close in Barcelona: “I learnt a lot about my players that night.”

Europe most likely caught up with Lennon at some point late last night, as news of Celtic’s 2-1 victory over Barcelona was met with disbelief and

Celtic have basked in the sun of their victory for almost 24 hours, and Tony Watt and Forster have surely written themselves into club folklore.

But what, if anything, has changed for Celtic in this Champions League group?

Firstly and most immediately, Celtic have strengthened their chances of reaching the last sixteen stages of the Champions League no end. While there is a huge amount of work and concentration still required if Celtic are to progress, personnel from both Benfica and Spartak Moscow reflected glumly on their chances of clinching second place after the result in Glasgow.

Second, and perhaps just as immediate, is how high Celtic’s stock currently is. Prior to the game, Sky Sports pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Redknapp both felt that Barcelona would be comfortable winners, particularly as Celtic had suffered the late exclusion of captain Scott Brown through a vomiting bug.

By full time, Neville was applauding young Tony Watt’s tenacity to score on his Champions League debut, and Redknapp was labelling Fraser Forster as “a world class goalkeeper. It’s just a shame he’s got Joe Hart (1st choice England ‘keeper) in front of him, but he’ll go all the way.”

Victory Wanyama has now produced two show-stealing performances against Barcelona, which can only have served to heighten the interest of potential suitors, who have included Manchester United to date.

Going forward, Celtic face Benfica in Portugal in the next fixture. In seasons gone by, this game would have been viewed with a weariness, given Celtic’s away record until lately. Given that Celtic have beaten Spartak in Moscow and came within a few moments of a famous draw in Catalunya, it seems peculiar to think that Benfica would have been pinpointed as the “easiest” of the three away ties.

Celtic then close their group campaign against Spartak in Glasgow, where they will be expected to take all three points. Should Celtic come up with a win in Portugal and qualify for the last 16 earlier than most fans could have dreamt, then that last game at Celtic Park would become a celebration. At present, it may well come to be almost as nervy a night as last night’s.

What is clear is that Celtic have a young and vibrant squad, filled with vastly under-rated talent, marshaled in confident fashion by their equally skilled young manager Neil Lennon, quietly and deftly crafted by Chief Scout John Park.

Perhaps Lennon best encapsulated the air of excitement for the future which currently surrounds Celtic when he said last night: “I am not saying that this is the pinnacle, because I think there is more to come from this team. You know, the progression is great.”

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Honours even in derby

Neither side came out on top at Tannadice Park this afternoon as Dundee United and Aberdeen ended an enthralling encounter as they started it. Both sides had chances to win the game as it swung from end to end, but most fans will feel that a draw was the fairest outcome.

The drama began before kick-off, with the Aberdeen team coach being delayed by the traffic problems on the A90. A police escort was required, and it was a minor miracle that the match only kicked off fifteen minutes late.

The pre-match atmosphere was good, with friendly banter between the two sets of fans both outside and inside the stadium. Fans and players were united in a display condemning racism as part of the Kick It Out campaign.

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The game began at a frenetic pace. Aberdeen dominated most of the early exchanges, only being denied by the brilliant Radek Cierzniak in the United goal. The keeper produced an outstanding save from Scott Vernon to keep the sides level as Aberdeen fashioned a number of early chances, while United were restricted to shooting from distance.

However, the men in tangerine began to come into the game, and it was they who took the lead after 22 minutes. Aberdeen could count themselves slightly unfortunate, as the ball rebounded off the knee of referee Iain Brines to Johnny Russell, who broke down the left beating Mark Reynolds and crossing for John Rankin who had the simplest of tap-ins to open the scoring.

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Aberdeen had chances to equalise before half-time, but the impressive Cierzniak again denied Vernon with another top-class save. From that, United broke once more and it took an excellent last-ditch tackle from Aberdeen captain Russell Anderson to deny Russell a certain goal.

After the break, Aberdeen looked like a much stronger side, and a series of corners won and taken by the excellent Ryan Fraser contributed to their equaliser when one such delivery was flicked on by Anderson for Niall McGinn to apply the finish and continue his impressive scoring run.

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Both sides had chances to win the game, and Cierzniak and his counterpart in the Aberdeen goal, Jamie Langfield, both made excellent saves to keep the scores level. First, United’s impressive Pole came out to deal well with Stephen Hughes’ run into the box, and then Langfield did well to save a stinging shot from Russell after a mazy run through the Aberdeen defence.

Both sides will feel they could have won the game with the chances they had, but there will be many positives for Craig Brown and Peter Houston to take into next week’s fixtures.

SMRC Season comes to thrilling climax

The final meeting of the year for the Scottish Motor Racing Club came to Knockhill this Sunday with five separate championships still to be decided  the closest contested championship was the Scottish Classic Sports & Saloons. The two top drivers in this class, Robert Marshall and Andrew Smith, were both tied on 434 points so there was everything to play for.

Scotland’s national motor-sport centre also played host to Indy Car legend Dario Franchitti who had brought along his own 1999 Raynard Honda IndyCar for the Scottish racing fans to see. Franchitti, originally from Bathgate in West Lothian, even had time to get behind the wheel and do some high-speed laps in the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and show the small but excitable crowd some world class driving. The Indy Car champ and husband to film star Ashley Judd, had the pleasure of witnessing some of the best racing Scotland has to offer.

The highly anticipated meeting started off with a bang for the South Peak racing team when Shonny Paterson’s Triumph TR8 had an engine fire after being started up in the icy temperatures at the track. However the rapid response from team members Jean Vella and Dougie Campbell meant that there was relatively no damage to the tangerine Triumph. Although Paterson did not enter this years championship he was still one of the top drivers to beat, and reinforced this fact by qualifying in pole position with a lap time of 59.2 seconds despite the sub-zero weather  It was the first time this year Paterson had qualified 1st with the usually much lighter and quicker Morgan Plus 8 of Andrew Smith on the grid. Smith could only manage to qualify 2nd for the start of race.

Race 1 promised to be captivating from the off, with both Andrew Smith and Robert Marshall having had 100% winning records in their respective classes and were aiming to maintain that. Paterson got off to a poor start and dropped back to fourth behind last years championship winner Stan Bernard in his Porche 911 and Raymond Boyd in another Porche 911. With Smith now in first and an open track in front of him he was able to stretch his lead to 5 car lengths after the first lap. Despite Paterson’s poor start he used his all of his 3.9 litre power to push his way back up to second leaving the rest of the field in his dust. However the light and nimble Morgan denied the TR8 from climbing in to the number one seat which allowed Smith to keep his 100% season win record. Marshall who finished in 5th overall also managed to maintain his 100% class win record due to his brother John Marshall retiring in his MK1 Escort.

After some impressive driving in the first race it was time for the final race of the day, with the grid arranged in their finishing positions from race one it looked like Smith was a sure winner. Smith lead from the off as predicted but Paterson was not for giving up without a fight. The Argyll man’s outstanding driving, taking the TR8 to the max, was rewarded with an ambitious overtake coming out of the hairpin and for a few seconds Paterson had the lead, but the Morgan came storming back along the straight and stole the number 1 spot back. With only a handful of laps left another engine issue struck the TR8 when the cockpit started to fill with toxic fumes and was forced to drop 6 car lengths behind the Morgan but maintain it’s lead over the rest of the field and finish the race. The final race of the season was over and both Smith and Marshall finished with incredible seasons, both maintaining their 100% race winning records.

For the first time in years the Classic sports and saloons had joint champions, Robert Marshall and Andrew Smith both tied on 484 points, both drivers have been driving superbly throughout the season and this was reflected in the final standings. The driver of the day was awarded Shonny Paterson for his outstanding performance and courageous driving throughout the day (no team bias at all!). Paterson commented on his award,

“The car was on top form today and so was my driving! We had a difficult start to the day with the engine fire but I would to thank my team for their quick reactions to put it out, without them I might even have a car right now never mind driver the driver of the day trophy! I want to thank my beautiful wife Fi and my gorgeous children Coll and Tilly for their unwavering support in everything I do, and I also want thank to my sister and her family for her support throughout my racing career here at Kncokhill and throughout the country!”

Where Now For Scotland?

Craig Levein

Craig Levein’s position is more forlorn than ever as Scotland languish in second last place of Group A with only two points from the opening three games in their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign.

For all intents and purposes, Scotland’s bid to reach the promised land of Rio is effectively dead, after the fatal blow was struck last night at a rain-soaked Cardiff City stadium.

While a win last night would not quite have put Scotland back on track for qualification, it would have preserved a glimmer of hope for the Tartan Army after two underwhelming draws with Serbia and Macedonia at Hampden last month had left them swaying unsteadily on the ropes.

Scotland were undone late in the game by a world-class strike from Gareth Bale, who himself had levelled the score from the spot a few moments before, after Scotland had initially taken the lead in the first half against the run of play.

Already, there has been much discussion surrounding several key moments throughout the game.

Firstly, the legitimacy of Bale’s penalty is the subject of debate, as it seems that there was very little or no contact from Shaun Maloney before the Welshman lost his footing, however on closer inspection in replays it appears that Maloney did in fact clip the heels of Bale.

Previous to this, Steven Fletcher had Scotland fans celebrating being up 2-0 when he headed in from close range, only for the linesman to bring the game back.

As for why the game was halted by the assistant referee, that may well remain a mystery.

Charlie Adam did appear to be slightly offside in the build-up to the goal, but the linesman continued with play before raising his flag moments later when Steven Fletcher ran from an onside position to score, causing bemusement among the Scottish ranks.

Despite the perceived injustices which conspired against Scotland, this was yet again another performance which came up short in a game where there was ample opportunity to be out of sight before Wales responded.

Craig Levein has been heavily criticised in the past for his knack of tactically closing the gate when the horse has already bolted, and he again was guilty of this last night.

Jamie Mackie was readied for action on the Scotland bench with the visitors 1-0 up; but entered the field of play with the Scots chasing the game. Kenny Miller was also introduced to the game with Scotland on the back foot and exhausted.

In truth, Scotland should have been furnished with fresh legs much earlier than they were.

And yet, somehow Levein was less culpable for the failings of his team this time than in many previous games.

He had righted a few wrongs earlier in the week, finally burying the hatchet with Steven Fletcher to reintroduce the £14 million Sunderland striker to an international fixture for the first time in around two years. On form Kris Commons was also called into proceedings after a long absence from a Scotland squad.

By including both these players and the returning Darren Fletcher in the starting line-up, there was a sense that for the first time in a long time, a full strength Scotland team was available and being utilised appropriately.

However, the end result was no different to any other game in recent times: Scotland left ruing missed chances; apathy and disbelief from the travelling supporters in the stands; and yet another flurry of calls on social media outlets for Levein to be ousted as manager.

These calls continue to get louder, and with the campaign to reach Brazil; which was ushered in with fresh optimism by the Scottish FA a mere six weeks ago; all but dead in the water, it appears that a tipping point is fast approaching.

Last month the SFA chose to ignore the clamour for Levein to be removed after poor performances and results in the first two fixtures of Group A.

They may now have to listen to public opinion and make an important decision; especially if Scotland are defeated by Belgium in Brussels, as current form suggests.

Indeed, it is difficult to see how the SFA can justify to Scottish fans the advantages of allowing Craig Levein to continue in his current role. 

How receptive are Brazilians feeling towards the World Cup 2014 and the Olympics in 2016?

In the short period of one week the seven-meter high brazilian mascot located in Brasilia has been stabbed twice.

In the next few years Brazil will be hosting two of the biggest sporting events, the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

A recent article from The Guardian (click here to read it) claims that those actions are just portrayals of vandalism and violence that Brazil is very known for, however, could there be more behind it?

Perhaps it is an indication of how Brazilians are not as receptive as the British, who just recently hosted the London 2012 Olympics and instead of spending money on building stadiums that will be most likely be abandoned after  the competitions as well as knowing that Brazil has not got the infrastructure to provide a safe experience the government should invest the money on things that are more worth while like creating an education system that is actually decent and a health care system that people can rely on.

Aline Siekierski (twitter:@alinesieks)

All smoke and mirrors as Mclarens team-mates are no more

Lewis Hamilton, the Mclaren poster boy has upset many fans by accusing team-mate Jenson Button of unfollowing him on Twitter.

“Just noticed @jensonbutton unfollowed, thats a shame. After 3 years as teammates, I thought we respected one another but clearly he doesn’t.”

As Hamilton prepares to move to rival team Mercedes next season it has become apparent that the two British drivers may not have the ‘perfect’ friendship that many perceive. It has been clear that throughout this season Hamilton has not been happy about Jenson’s often superior driving. This isnt Hamilton’s first tweeting blunder; after qualifying in Spa earlier this year, he voiced his upset in being unable to match Buttons performance

‘Upset at being unable to match Button’s pace in qualifying after opting to run an older spec rear wing’

It has been a turbulant season with many  unhappy with Hamilton’s behaviour on and off the track forcing a u-turn after this latest escapade:

“My bad, just found out Jenson never followed me. Don’t blame him! Need to be on Twitter more!”

With no comment from Mclaren and no serious acknowledgement from Button it leaves many, including Hamilton, wondering if Twitter is something Hamilton should persue or laid to rest with his Mclaren career.

Rebecca Barrett (@beccaabarrett)

 

Money And Empty Seats – Online Report

Based on two recent surveys conducted on the internet, British football supporters believe the modern-day pricing at matches is too expensive.  But is it just down to pricing?

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