Euro 2016 almost at an end, but Europe is open for Celtic

Commiseration to Wales in last nights European Championship Sem-Final. It was a cagey first half from both sides though both had chances to score as well.

Despite being slightly better in the first half, Wales succumbed to the threat of Ronaldo. It took the wind out of the Welsh sails early in the second half and the closely followed up second goal from Nani was a deadly blow.

Every effort was made to claw something back but the Portuguese had their tails up. This has been a valiant effort by Wales and they can go home with heads held very high indeed.

Tonight of course we will find out who joins Portugal in the final when Germany face host nation France. It’s a hard one to call but Portugal will find it a tough final no matter who they get.

Once Sunday’s final is decided, the European battleground awaits Celtic. They travel to Gibraltar to face Lincoln Red Imps in the Champions League second qualifying round.

Many expected Flora Tallinn to see off the Gibraltarians after winning 2-1 in Estonia. However, Imps had other ideas and won 2-0 on home turf.

Now Celtic will be heading out there on Tuesday 12th July to face them in the first leg. The Hoops wrap a positive preseason tour on Saturday against European qualifying rivals Maribor.

The team have been going through their paces for just over two weeks now. With one more friendly before their first competitive match, Brendan Rodgers will be looking for some players to get a full 90 minutes under their belts.

Whether Celtic feel they urgently require a player or two to face Lincoln Red Imps is uncertain. With Euro 2016 close to finishing, transfer business will start begin moving again.

Friday 8th is the deadline for this round of the qualifying campaign so if Brendan Rodgers feel he can’t get through with what he has got right now, the window of opportunity is very small indeed. Personally, I would think that if the current team can’t get through this round then there is trouble at mill!

I wouldn’t argue that the team need two or three additional signings, maybe more if we sell any of the rumoured players. However, the bigger games are beyond this round and that is where you need to be better.

Rodgers only real worry is central defence and Kolo Toure is the name being banded around as is Shane Duffy’s. We’ll see if anything transpires in the next 24 hours.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

After the international break

Who’d have thought it eh? Scotland record back to back wins over higher ranking teams.

We know international friendlies are meaningless but it was a bit of a surprise to see 2 wins out of 2 for the Scottish national side. Gordon Strachan remains focussed on the next qualifying campaign and he has a decent team but Scotland still lack that standout player for me.

There are some important individuals but they aren’t always available or on form. In the past there has been at least one player you might look to change your fortunes or influence the team.

Right now I’d say we benefit more from a stronger squad. The door remains open for someone to make a name for themselves on the international scene and there is nothing to suggest one of the current crop make stake that claim.

With no European Championships for Scotland though, we Scots will have to look on as all other “home nations” take part in this summer’s tournament. It is yet another opportunity missed for Scotland.

I’m pretty sure that if Strachan can’t get Scotland to Russia in 2018 he’ll move on. If he succeeds, he might just stay beyond that tournament.

There’s no doubting Strachan’s managerial ability. We saw that with Celtic.

Even though Scotland won’t be in France this summer, it will be a motivator that England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Wales are. We’re used to not being at tournaments since missing out at Euro 2000 but to be the only country on these isles to be staying on these isles is already a disappointment so god knows what it’s going to be like when the coverage begins.

So with that in mind, I’m glad to be getting back to club football this weekend with Celtic. The internationals have merely been a distraction this week.

On the subject of club v country interest I thought it was interesting to hear Scott Brown defend Liam Bridcutt’s tackle on Celtic team-mate, Erik Sviatchenko.

I realise that Broony is taking a Scotland captain stance and defending his international team-mate. However, the challenge was reckless and in a competitive game Bridcutt would have walked.

Sviatchenko played down the debate which was pretty decent of him. To be honest though, Bridcutt and Brown were both in the wrong.

As long as Brown and Sviatchenko are on the same page this Saturday at Celtic Park, that’s all that matters. Celtic host 3rd placed Hearts who are only 9 points behind 2nd placed Aberdeen.

Both the Hoops and the Jambos have a game at hand over the Dons. There is every chance the pecking order could change in these last 8 games (7 for Aberdeen).

Ronny Deila will be targeting maximum points. The same can be said of Derek McInnes and Robbie Neilson.

You can be sure points will be dropped by all three clubs before the end of the season though. History tells you as much.

So Celtic fans beware. We may draw or lose in these last eight games but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll lose the league.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The end of the World (Cup) is nigh

On Thursday night I listened in to Radio 5 Live Sport after the England match had finished. To be honest, it wasn’t to gloat, but I was prompted to listen after reading some online content.

As one would expect, there was the usual toxic mix of substandard performances, lack of passion and poor squad selection. All of these issues come to a head when you’re team suffers a defeat.

Had England, no Roy Hodgson, picked guys like John Terry or Ashley Cole as suggested by many callers, would it really have made a difference? Maybe, maybe not, the thing to remember is that England would still have had the same manager deploying the same tactics.

So instead of complaining about lesser experienced international players, England fans would be calling for guys like Terry and Cole to retire. You’re damned if you do, your damned if you don’t.

For once in my lifetime, England went into a tournament without the hype which we’ve become accustomed to, which in return sees many Scot’s supporting every team England encounter. Because things were played down this time around, I actually found watching England that little bit more palatable and was less concerned (if at all) about the result.

Some might say, “Stevie, you’ve become an English sympathiser in your years down south” but there’s no chance you’ll never find me chanting for England. I’m just less bothered because they haven’t been bigging themselves up as is usually the case.

As one caller mentioned on the radio, Gianluca Vialli was spot on in his assessment of England. What Vialli mentioned in a BBC interview, shown last week, is something all of us know, but most England fans have yet to realise.

“As an outsider, I look and I read and I know English fans and the media, for about four years, have been a bit depressed about the national team and have very little expectations.

“But then the World Cup arrives and all of a sudden you start talking about semi-finals, the final and how this is the strongest team you’ve had in the World Cup for years. It’s quite funny.”

He may only be referring to this World Cup, but this happens at every tournament. I’ve seen better England squads than this one but even then, I’m never wholly convinced that they are potential winners but they’ll tell you otherwise.

As a Scotsman and as one of those Celtic fans who support Scotland but not Ireland, I get international disappointment on a regular basis. When Scotland play I want the best but unfortunately the national side has been on the slide for as long as I can remember.

There have been brief moments of joy but even that was quite a while ago. There is some rejuvenation going on currently but we’ll have to wait until the next Euro campaign to see how that’s going.

England should count themselves lucky that they even make tournaments. Scotland haven’t made a major tournament since France 1998 and even when we have made one, we never qualify from the group phase.

The difference is we know our limitations. What we’ve never been able to put our finger on is what the problem is and how we can resolve it.

One of Scotland’s greatest failings is the domestic game. Sure we’ve still got players dotted around the UK but the standard is pretty low.

England are blessed with better fortune in that there are better facilities and a larger population. In general though, there is more money ploughed in.

Scottish clubs are devoid of serious investors. With the exception of Celtic, nobody is willing to put money to Scottish clubs most likely because its a poor product.

Dermot Desmond is Celtic’s majority shareholder, a very wealthy one, but throwing money at Celtic can only go so far. He is a businessman and despite any genuine interest he has in Celtic as a fan, he must still balance the books and turn a profit.

In England, there is more money than sense. You have all these money men chucking money at overpriced players from other countries, paying English players the same and expecting the same output.

The truth is some of these guys look better because they have the benefit of playing with European and World class players from other countries week in, week out in the Premier League. They play in a league inflated by huge amounts of cash, globalised by a television network who virtually own it and yet supporters lack the perspective to see beyond their “best league in the world”.

England have some talented individuals but I have seen better England teams. If they want to see an improvement, they will need to take a reality check first.

It should be noted that when their World Cup group was drawn, it was widely acknowledged that England would struggle to qualify from it. Tell me something, what has changed since then?

And let’s be honest, is it really that bad? The current World and European Champions are already out so they’re in good company.

Lick your wounds England and come watch the rest of the World Cup from the sofa. Scotland, Northern Ireland, The Republic of Ireland and Wales are waiting.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie