We’re full steam ahead on the 2016/17 season now. Usually the update from our form in Europe is part of the half-way summary, but there’s been quite a fair bit of action so far this season from Scottish clubs so I thought it deserved it’s own post.
Our domestic rivals
Rangers entered the Europa League 1st qualifying round, and embarrassingly got defeated by Haugesund from Norway. A 3-0 2nd leg win at home wasn’t enough to overturn a 4-0 loss in Norway. A shocker of a European result.
Celtic managed to successfully navigate the 1st and 2nd Champions qualifying rounds of the Champions League, overcoming Dudelange and funnily enough, Astana, respectively. They then faced Scottish clubs old European foes, Maribor and came unstuck as they lost out on away goals, 2-2 on aggregate. Another shocker, but they did have the fall back of Europa League group stage qualification.
AI clubs, I find, are notoriously bad at overcoming what I deem as winnable games in European qualifying. That, however, hasn’t been the case for Hearts this season. They also entered the Europa League at the 1st qualifying round stage, and made it to the 3rd qualifying round to face AZ. Sure fire defeat you’d normally think on FM. Hearts go through, 3-2 on aggregate after a brilliant 2-1 home win. Next up it’s that notoriously tricky playoff round, and Saint-Etienne. Sure fire defeat you’d normally think on FM. Hearts go through, 2-0 on aggregate after a brilliant 2-0 home win this time.
So that’s Celtic and Hearts both in the Europa League group stage, let’s see how they got on.
A very valiant effort from Hearts, in a really tough looking group on paper. They took their strong home form from the qualifying rounds into the group stage, and defeated both Zenit and, group winners, Feyenoord at Tynecastle. Bottom of the group, but those two huge wins contribute massively to the overall Scottish coefficient.
Celtic were drawn into a really good looking group for them. No defeats, 3 wins and 3 draws. 2 of those draws came at home, which I’d be disappointed with if I was Brendan Rodgers. Through as group winners though, and they’ll face Litex in the 1st knockout round. A great opportunity to put more coefficient points on the board.
Our European campaign
A 2nd place finish in the Premiership last season, and Scottish Cup win of course, saw us enter the Europa League at the 2nd qualifying round. Stjarnan were professionally swept aside without us conceding a goal. A tricky looking trip to Ukraine to face Zorya was handled perfectly, and the tie was effectively over after we scored 5 away goals in the 1st leg.
Our reward for negotiating those two rounds was Kobenhavn in the, like I said before, notoriously tricky playoff round. An Adam Rooney hattrick gave us the win, but 2 away goals for the visitors at Pittodrie made me slightly nervy going into the 2nd leg. A brilliant performance in front of a near 30,000 crowd in Denmark saw us qualify for the group stages for the 2nd season in a row. Rooney’s 2nd minute goal setting the tone for a memorable European away trip for the Dons fans.
Our group stage draw was somewhere in between Hearts and Celtic’s. Hajduk gave us a great shot at getting that win that eluded us in last season’s group stage, while it’d be undoubtedly difficult to beat Gladbach and Inter. How did we get on then?
Outclassed by Inter in the first match, but we went in with no expectations to get anything from it. If we to finally record our first Europa League group stage win, then it had to come in a home match against Hajduk, and luckily it did. Nice clean sheet too. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet, Gladbach were actually Europa League finalists last season, and beat Celtic in the semi-final if you recall from the end of season summary post. To take 4 points from them in our group matches against them is remarkable and I was delighted with it. A loss v Inter, this time at home, on matchday 5 was expected again but more difficult to take than our first match against them, with it being such a narrow one. Those brilliant results against Gladbach meant we went into the last group stage match needing a result away at Hajduk, and hoping Inter would do us a favour against the Germans.
Our great start in Croatia was cancelled out, but in the end a draw, albeit a disappointing one, and Inter doing us a favour against Gladbach, was enough to take us into the knockouts of the Europa League. Chuffed to bits.
We’re facing a Battle of Britain in the 1st knockout round, against the mighty Liverpool. What an occasion that’ll be.
So Scotland ended last season on 23.050 points in the European coefficients ranking table, which put the country in 20th position.
Based on the performances so far, we’re projected to fire up to 12th in the table, with 29.675 points. If we remained in 12th place come the end of the season, it’d earn the Premiership winners an automatic spot into the Champions League group stage, and we’d have another club in the best placed qualifying round. Alongside that, one of our clubs would automatically make it into the Europa League group stage, with 1 going into the 3rd qualifying round, and another into the 2nd. Outstanding stuff.