A dead-rubber? More like Celtic hold Scottish dreams in their hands as they head to Rapid Vienna

Rapid Vienna v Celtic, Europa League, December 17, 2009

Rapid Vienna 5/4; Draw 23/10; Celtic 11/5

Both Rapid and Celtic have missed out on progressing through to the next round of the Europa League having fallen in Group C to Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hamburg. And yet, it can be argued that the Bhoys’ trip to Vienna on Thursday night is far away from being classified as a dead-rubber. Rather the significance of the match could have far reaching consequences affecting broader Scottish hopes for future European glory.

Welcome to the unsexy yet hugely important number-crunching world of the UEFA coefficient tables.

In short, the UEFA coefficient tables are used to rank the all the various European leagues in order to determine the number of clubs each league will have entered into the Champions League and/or the Europa League. The higher up the tables you are, the more teams each league gets to have participate in the competitions.

So onto Scotland’s specifics, where it’s a gloomy tale of a potential end to the old order as the failure of the SPL teams to do well in Europe begins to take hold. Scotland are currently placed 15th in the UEFA rankings, a position that offers two Champions League positions. However, falling out of the top 15 means only one place is offered, leaving the SPL runners-up with the daunting task of facing up to three qualifying rounds in order to reach the Champions League group phase.

Looking to jump on Scotland’s failures is the Belgium Jupiler League where, after Standard Liege’s progress into the last 32 of the Europa League last week, leapfrogging the SPL to snatch the crucial Champions League place is now a real possibility.

Should Celtic lose in Vienna, Belgium football will need just eight coefficient match points to overtake Scotland, equating to four wins or eight draws. That looks achievable with the back of of the season still to play, especially considering that Club Brugge host Toulouse on Wednesday night with the winner assured of qualification, while already-qualified Anderlecht travel to Holland to play Ajax on the following evening.

This may all sound like a yawn-fest now, but should the SPL only have one regular club in the Champions League each season then the possibility of the Scottish league moving from a seasoned two-horse race to a one club dictatorship (i.e. which Old Firm club manages to get their noses in front first to start sapping up the Champions League pots of gold) could be the sad future of the Scottish game.

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In spite of that introduction, indications are that Celtic boss Tony Mowbray (“Next Sunday [against Hearts] is my main focus, not Thursday”) is ready to rest some of his first-teamers for the trip to Austria as the Bhoys look to take the match lightly. The wisdom behind Celtic deploying wholesale questions though is questionable, as it could be argued that Celtic need to continue their momentum from their victory at Motherwell which requires the first-teamers to stand up and be counted.

Marc-Antoine Fortune (10/1 to score first & Celtic win) will be gunning for a start in the attack after netting the winner at Well, however without doubt Scott McDonald (11/2 to score first) and Georgios Samaras (3/1 to score & Celtic win) remain the favoured forward-line. Celtic’s midfield looks equally over-populated, as Saturday’s starters Marc Crosas (8/1 to score), Barry Robson, Landry N’Guemo and Aiden McGeady (11/4 to score) could be replaced by the likes of Niall McGinn, Koki Mizuno and Paddy McCourt.

Artur Bouc will likely get a rest with compatriot Lukasz Zaluska stepping in between the post, while Glenn Loovens (25/1 to score last) could partner some defenders of tomorrow including Paul Caddis and Josh Thompson.

Rapid, looking to avoid the wooden spoon, will be led by captain Steffen Hofmann (16/1 to score first & Rapid win), who has been honoured as Austria’s 2009 Footballer of the Year. Hofmann has already laid claim to nine goals in 19 games this season as Rapid have opened up a three point lead at the top of their league, although the 29-year-old forward has been pushed by Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic (5/2 to score & Rapid win) (8 goals in 17 matches) and out-scored by Albanian hotshot Hamdi Salihi (9/4 to score anytime, 15/2 to score first) with 9 goals in 12 matches.

101predicts: Rapid Vienna 3 – Celtic 1 (14/1)

Full match odds here.


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