Let’s be honest, barring a completely unmitigated disaster then we’re already in the Champion League group stages.
I’ve always hated to presume.
Presuming and expecting can often blow up in your face.
If you expect something to happen based on the rational level of probabilities and born out of confidence based on knowledge of a situation then it’s usually best to keep said expectation to yourself just in case the unthinkable does happen and you end up with the proverbial egg on your face.
But surely we can’t blow this.
I mean Astana will literally have to thump us by 6 goals or more to put us out.
Even 5 without reply would just even it up.
It shouldn’t be possible.
Now anything can happen in football and especially on European nights.
Just last season Barcelona did the unthinkable and turned around a 4-0 away leg hiding to PSG by hammering them 6-1 at the Nou Camp. But that was Barcelona. They had the now disbanded M.S.N front three of Messi, Suarez and Neymar who had collectively scored well over 300 goals in three seasons at that point. In two hours we’ll be facing Astana who have Junior Kabananga and Patrick Twumasi who together have found the net a far less daunting 65 times in the past three seasons.
Much has been made of Astana’s home record. I suppose that’s all you really can look to now that they’ve been blitzed 5-0 away. Some say it’s mightily impressive. I guess it’s all about how you look at it. They haven’t lost in 14 at home in European competitions stretching back to the 2014 Champions League play-off round where they were roundly hammered home and away by Villareal. That includes unbeaten runs in last years Europa League and the previous seasons Champions League group stages where they were up against some pretty formidable opposition in Atletico Madrid, Benfica and Galatasaray.
Now that is pretty impressive.
But closer inspection reveals that they only won 1 out of 6 of those group matches drawing the other 5.
They’ve actually only won 4 of their last 11 home ties in Europe with 7 draws, scoring 16 and conceding 10 in the process.
Make from those stats what you will but it seems to indicate they are draw specialists.
Indeed we can even use stats to support our own case by the fact we’ve actually only lost 2 of our last 7 away European encounters and one of them was away to Barcelona and the aforementioned M.S.N. I won’t remind you of the score. Even more relevant is that we’re unbeaten in our last 4, have won our last two and have over the 4 games scored 5 and conceded only 2. So put that in your pipe and smoke it. And oh yeah, we went there last year and drew with them.
I mean something truly remarkable would have to happen for us not to progress.
Something truly awfully and unfathomably embarrassing.
Literally a repeat of the massacre we suffered in the Nou Camp last season but against completely inferior opposition.
I’ve written articles for the blog before that have included reference to our away humblings to Neuthetal Xamax and Artmedia Bratislava. Both were awful nights. The first (5-1) was early in the Liam Brady reign and when we were still playing Tony Cascarino up front and giving Mike Galloway run outs in the midfield. The second (5-0) was Gordan Strahan’s first competitive game in charge and when we still thought Jérémie Aliadière was going to be a game-changing signing.
There was also the 4-0 massacre in Utrecht where Lenny’s newly assembled team came a cropper big time in the Europa League play-off round. I can remember that night clearest of all – not including the Nou Camp debacle of course – and how what can only be described as an unmitigated disaster played out.
I had a table booked out in the Admiral bar in the city centre. A big squad of us were right up at the front sitting about 6 feet away from the big screen. Having won the home leg 2-0 and up against a relative European minnow, we sat back in anticipation of a competitive, but ultimately successful nights viewing.
Instead what played out was literally a nightmare.
To look across the table at the faces you’d have thought we were watching a live birth.
Complete, abject horror.
We’d already cuffed them pretty easily at Celtic Park in the first leg, going 2-0 up after 34 mins in the home leg and then inexplicably taking our foot off the gas. Within 19 mins of the away leg though we were 2-0 down having conceded two penalties and generally been under the cosh from kick-off. They added two more in the second half to blow us out of the water and the tournament. Not even the introduction of Paddy McCourt with 30 mins to go could save us.
It was, to say the least, an absolute shit show and each player in the Celtic jersey would have been as well having their mug shot taken that night as it really had been criminal.
The thing is though, rather incredibly none of those results could actually eliminate us today.
They’d make it uncomfortable and even slightly embarrassing but we’d still be in our 10th Champions League group stage.
I’m actually struggling to remember when we’ve ever been in a position like this.
One of complete control. I mean when have we ever gone into a European second leg at a significant stage of the competition 5-0 up and on a 42-game unbeaten run? Never, would be the answer. But then again there’s a lot of things we’ve had to get used to recently such as a treble, an unbeaten season and dominant, free-flowing possession based football.
Long may it continue.
And tonight we will be in the Groups.
Paul Cassidy is a happy man at the moment, and doesn’t anticipate disaster striking us today. His latest The Dark Years article will be on the site tomorrow.