IT was an interesting week for our five Scottish clubs in Europe. There weren’t the best of results or performances all round but at least we have three teams still involved in European tournaments for now.
Without doubt, the biggest disappointment for our game was the exit of Rangers from the Champions League to Malmo. You would think that vital lessons would have been learned from the disappointing first leg, when they lost bad goals just after half time when they appeared to have dozed off. But it was even worse in the Ibrox match on Tuesday as circumstances had actually positively altered from their standing, when once again they switched off.
Rangers got a really fortunate break in Malmo with the final-minute goal which certainly kept the tie open for this week’s match. With a full house in great voice, Rangers started the match on the front foot and deservedly went ahead after 19 minutes. Overall, the first 30 minutes was very impressive and the crowd were loving it, having waited such a long time to gather in numbers for a major match. Rangers then received a further bit of fortune when Malmo midfielder Bonke Innocent was sent off for a challenge on Connor Goldson. This was very helpful but ironic, as the player was indeed ‘not guilty’ of an ordering-off offence. What a break this was for Rangers, now facing 45 minutes against 10 men having already levelled the tie.
However, they didn’t control the early part of the second half, even with the extra man and Malmo were given two easy openings to put themselves in front. Once again the defending of Rangers has been exposed this season and I’m sure Steven Gerrard will be very mindful of changes that may be required to address this.
After Malmo extended their lead they sat in and defended very deep to prevent Rangers getting suitable space to create much. With a two-goal lead they then appeared to be seeing out the match in a comfortable manner. It was a very bad night for Rangers and a disappointment for our European coefficient that we’re still not seeing a team reach the group stages of the Champions League. Fortunately though, our Premiership winners this season will go straight into the group stage next season, so that’s something to look forward to.
I was confident that Celtic and Aberdeen had done the business with their first-leg away wins. These were good performances and good results that brought less pressure for the return legs. It’s never completely decided after a good away result but it certainly reduces the stress of having to attack with care at home because you’re worried about losing a goal on the counter.
In terms of Hibs and St Johnstone, I have great sympathy for both as they both did well in the first legs, against strong opposition, despite just drawing their matches. In particular, St Johnstone deserve a lot of credit as I’d say that they had the hardest European fixture of all our clubs and managed to pull off a great result in Turkey. Despite that, it was always going to be tough for them to win over the two games even although Thursday night’s match was at home. When you consider that Galatasaray’s wage bill is over 20 times that of St Johnstone, it emphasises the gulf there is at times when our provincial clubs are competing in European competitions.
Still, it was great to have five teams involved this season and let’s hope the four remaining clubs can make their way through to the group stages of the Europa League and Conference League. It will be good for the fans to enjoy these high-level games, the players to gain vital European experience and the positivity this will also bring to our coefficient.
AND ANOTHER THING
I was really was surprised to see Lionel Messi leave Barcelona for PSG this week. I never believed he would because, despite what he’s done for Barca over the years, I believed he was indebted to the club for what they did for him personally.
When Barca were approached by his father when Messi was a 12-year-old, they agreed to spend the money required to deal with his growth hormone deficiency. This was crucial for him becoming a footballer and because none of the Argentinian teams would agree to pay for it, his father came to Spain seeking help.
He certainly appeared disappointed to be leaving but rather than blaming Barca completely, I think that the LaLiga financial regulations were very much responsible, as they were blocking the club paying the salary that was on offer, despite this being a 50% reduction.
Nevertheless, he’s going to a great set-up at PSG, to play alongside other great players, so maybe it will give him a new lease of life for the final stages of his wonderful career.