After the first legs of the third qualifying round it looks likely that five teams have booked their place in the play-offs already. In the Champions section Steaua Bucharest won 2:0 away at Dynamo Tblisi although it wasn’t quite as comfortable as the scoreline suggests with the Georgians having a goal disallowed and missing a penalty that would have seen them take the lead just after the hour.
Shakhter Karagandy beat seeded opponents BATE Borisov home and away in round 2, as did the team they were drawn to play in Q3, Albanian champions KS Skënderbeu. The Khazaks won 3:0 and by the look of things they would appear to be a bit more competent than their UEFA ranking of 263rd suggests (that’s below St. Pat’s Athletic and the New Saints). Viktoria Plzeň easily swatted aside Estonians Kalju Nomme with a 4:0 victory in Talinn.
In the non-champions route, Metalist Kharkiv of the Ukraine equalled Steaua’s result on their travels away to PAOK Salonika, one of the best results of the round considering the Greeks were seeded. A penalty for handball and a mental aberration from the home goalkeeper Jacobo would appear to have sealed Salonika’s fate.
Also in that part of the draw, Zenit beat Nordsjælland 1:0 in Denmark leaving the side from Farum needing snookers if they want a chance at a rerun of last season’s participation in the group stage.
Lyon won 1:0 against Grasshoppers of Zurich, whose manager will definitely not be for the high jump as his team hit the post twice against the Frenchmen, while Eindhoven have probably done enough against their neighbours Waragem from Belgium to see them through, leaving the Salzburg v Fenerbahçe tie the only one in the non-champions route still level at 1-1 after the first leg with the Turks at home in the return.
Should Zenit, Lyon, PSV, Fenerbahce and Metalist (surely there’s a case for renaming the Glasgow newco ‘Mentalists Kinning Park’?) go through their reward will be a tie against one of the clubs already in the non-champions play-off group, either Arsenal, AC Milan, Schalke, Real Sociedad or Pacos de Ferreira of Portugal. Guess which one out of those five they’ll all be praying to get.
Back in Celtic’s half of the draw it was a reasonably good round for the seeded teams. Only one of the seeds lost in the first leg and that was Partizan Belgrade who went down by 2:1 in Bulgaria to Ludogorets Razgrad. Having only managed to beat their Armenian opponents on away goals in Q2 the Serbians will be doing well to get through this one.
APOEL Nicosia were the seeded team in their tie – they reached the Champions League quarter finals two seasons agao – but only managed a 1:1 draw at home in Cyprus against NK Maribor, the equaliser for the Slovenians coming from Tavares. Not sure if it was Ralph, Pooch, Chubby, Butch or Tiny, but as they say in the Ljudski, “It Only Takes a Minute Girl…”
Seeded Legia Warsaw spent most of their match on the back foot against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde, going behind after half an hour to a goal from the home side’s Nigerian striker Daniel Chima, but they grabbed an equaliser with 20 minutes to play and will doubtless be satisfied with that precious away goal. This will be a close one next week.
The remainder of the seeds were all playing theur first leg ties at home and all of them achieved 1:0 wins. The closest of these match-ups in terms of coefficients and rankings was that between Dinamo Zagreb and Sheriff Tiraspol. On that basis the Croatians should be most pleased with their evening’s work which saw them score the winner in the last minute.
The difference in coefficient between Austria Wien and their Icelandic opponents is actually closer than the two aforementioned teams but the wonderfully named FH Hafnarfjardar are ranked at 227th in the current standings, a difference of 123 places. Which is almost identical to the difference between Basel and their Israeli opponents Maccabi Tel Aviv, although the difference in coefficient favours the Swiss by some 45 points. On paper it should have been a comfortable tie at the St. Jakob, and although reports suggest that the home side dominated the match, they’ll still be disappointed that they couldn’t add to their advantage. What the home sides all have in common is that they were faced with teams who set out to achieve at best a 0:0 draw. The unseeded sides will all have to score at least one goal in the return. Interesting to see how many of them will achieve that against their higher ranked opponents.
Which brings us to Celtic v Elfsborg. The Swedes too came with the intention of not conceding, playing for long spells with nine or ten men behind the ball, and at times hey weren’t too fussy about how they went about nullifying the Celtic threat. Giorgios Samaras in particular was chopped down cynically whenever he got near the away side’s goal. The Swedes ended up with 5 yellow cards against their names and were fortunate the Portuguese official allowed them to finish the match with eleven men still on the field.
Which side will be happiest with the Hoops’ 1:0 win? After Basel (56.758) – and the untimely demise of BATE Borisov – Celtic were the 2nd highest ranked team in the seeded half of the draw (31.838). Elfsborg (coeff 9.545 incidentally) probably wanted to play someone else but they had clearly done their homework, looked to exploit what they saw were weaknesses in Celtic’s team and are now making confident noises about progressing with a home win.
By contrast, Celtic had played only two competitive games before last night, both against part-time opposition. Especially early in the match it was clear the Bhoys were less sharp than the Swedes, now some 16 games into their league season. Therefore this is a result that could have been a lot worse. Against Helsinki this time last year we had to endure the early concession of a European goal at Celtic Park to a side that were nowhere near as good as Elfsborg, so it was another plus point not to have done that again, albeit there were times when it looked less than likely with some of the unorthodox and improvised defending going on.
Elfsborg have a good record at home on their artificial surface, but thinking back again to last year’s qualification campaign, both away wins were achieved on such surfaces in Helsinki and in Helsingborg. According to Solly, our Swedish scout in Stockholm, Elfsborg have a good support by Swedish standards and they play attacking football at home. In his view they are a better team than Helsingborg on their own ground. We’ll see in a week’s time whether Celtic class of 2013 can use this to their advantage and emulate last year’s result in Sweden.
Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round 1st Leg
FC Basel Sui Maccabi Tel-Aviv Isr 1-0
Molde FK Nor Legia Warsaw Pol 1-1
Ludogorets Razgrad Bul Partizan Belgrade Srb 2-1
Dinamo Tbilisi Geo Steaua Bucuresti Rom 0-2
APOEL Nicosia Cyp NK Maribor Slo 1-1
Celtic Sco IF Elfsborg Swe 1-0
Shakhtyor Karaganda Kaz Skënderbeu Korçë Alb 3-0
Austria Wien Aut FH Hafnarfjardar Isl 1-0
Kalju Nomme Est Viktoria Plzen Cze 0-4
Dinamo Zagreb Cro Sheriff Tiraspol Mol 1-0
FC Nordsjælland Den Zenit St. Petersburg Rus 0-1
FC Salzburg Aut Fenerbahçe Tur 1-1
PAOK Thessaloniki Gre Metalist Kharkiv Ukr 0-2
PSV Eindhoven Ned Zulte Waregem Bel 2-0
Olympique Lyon Fra Grasshoppers Zürich Sui 1-0
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