category: Champions League

Sunday July 11th was apparently the official end of the 2009/10 football season, and for me Today is the start of the 2010/11 season, not exactly much of a holiday, now after only 4 preseason friendlies Celtic will travel to Portugal to face league runners-up Sporting Braga over two legs, the winner will go on to face one of the top clubs in Europe for a place in the Champions League, not exactly the easiest path however it is a consequence of the poor quality in the SPL, and is not going to change very soon.

Cards on the table, when the draw was made I was happy with the draw. In our pot we could have faced Zenit St.Petersburg, Dynamo Kiev, Ajax, Fenerbahce and of course Braga, It’s no disrespect to them at all, no one wants to travel to Russia or the Ukraine at this stage of the year, both countries seasons are half way through, and with both countries not in the World Cup they would be fresh and rested, a trip to Turkey is never the easiest at any time of the year, and Ajax have a wealth of talent that I am glad we avoided.

The “weakest” of the 5 teams it was a good draw, it doesn’t guarantee an easy game however, I set about searching Braga as a team to see what Neil Lennon’s men would be up against, The squad is not full of household names, the only name that I recognised where Goalkeeper Quim, and Cameroonian forward Albert Meyong, not names that make you hesitant in any way, some deeper digging would be needed.

Os Arsenalistas (The Arsenalists) are managed by Domingos Paciencia he only took charge in June 2009 and led them to their best ever finish in the clubs history, even more surprising when the look at his previous tenures, 9 wins from 24 games with Union Leira and 19 in 65 games with Academica, Braga’s record last year is stunning only dropped 2 points at home all season, that came with a 0-0 draw with Naval, added to that they only conceded 6 goals at home in the league, their away record is not to be baulked at, 4 draws and 2 defeats, an uncharacteristic 5-0 defeat at the Dragao against FC Porto their worst result.

Celtic will have had a tough task in scouting Paciencia’s men, 18 players have left last year’s squad with 13 new players coming in, including Nigerian centre back Uwe Echiejile, and goalkeeper Quim who will miss the Celtic game through injury, the only thing you would probably gain from watching Braga play is the managers style and the type of football they play, in true Portuguese style it is based on possession slow build up, and slick passing moves. Winger Alan is the focal point of most of Braga’s play, very skilful and tricky player.

On the flip side scouting Lennon’s team won’t be easy either, only in charge for 5 league games last season, and the arrival of 6 new players, the Celtic line-up remains a mystery, playing a 4-5-1 come 4-3-3 in pre-season, this seems to be the formation Lennon is settling on, away from home I can see it heading more towards the 4-5-1 not trying to give up too much space in the middle, with a lone striker upfront to lead the line. Preseason form never counts for much but Samaras has given himself a great chance to start with his 3 goals so far, whether he is the right man to play up on his own is up for debate, I would prefer Marc-Antoine Fortune, better in the air, stronger and has pace to run the channels, in the middle I would suspect Ledley, Brown, Crosas, and Juarez, not sure on the 5th pick, Ki Sung-Young could be too lightweight for an away battle, however he has undoubted quality on the ball and could be a surprise starter, Ledley on the left, Juarez on the right, Crosas, Brown and Ki in the middle, questions could be asked of their defensive abilities, the incoming signing of Biram Kayal could prove very important to the balance of Lennon’s side.

Cha Du-Ri and Charlie Mulgrew will no doubt make their debut’s, Loovens faces a late fitness test to partner Jos Hooiveld in defence, the quality of the defence troubles me, we still lack that extra quality you need at this level. With the first leg being the away tie for Celtic, any close game will do, even a 1-0 defeat would be a good result to come away with, Celtic’s away performances in Europe have been well documented and last season 6 defeats and 2 draws is unconvincing, a tight game will give The Bhoys a great chance of taking the game back to Parkhead where they have a much better record 1 defeat and 4 draws is a good return for a team that had a very poor season by their own high standards

This will be a very tight series and will come down to the wire, could even go to penalties, a cruel way for either team to start the season, to finish off I’ve just come across an interesting stat, in the Champions League, no Scottish team has ever won a match………… today the day.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – Third Qualifying Round – 1st Leg – Results

6 first leg ties were played yesterday, Omonia and Red Bull Salzburg kicked off first and Red Bull got a great start 1-0 up after 1 minute, Argentine Gonzalo Zarate scoring his first goal for the club, Omonia had the last laugh a 91 minute equaliser from the penalty spot which former Newcastle strike Lomana Lua Lua coolly dispatched.

Litex Lovech and Zilina played out a 1-1 draw in Lovech; Tomas Majtan put Zilina in the lead after 65 minutes only for Brazilian winger “Tom” to level the game 14 minutes later, great away goal for Zilina.

Dynamo Kyiv put one foot into the playoff rounds beating Gent 3-0 goals from Yarmolenko, Andrei Shevchenko and Zozulya, tough for Gent to now go to Kyiv and win by 4 goals. One of last year’s surprise teams Unirea Uriziceni managed to keep a clean sheet at home to Zenit St. Petersburg, however they couldn’t score either and the match ended 0-0, Zenit will fancy themselves at home next week.

Erich Brabec scored with 14 minutes to go to give Sparta Prague a 1-0 victory over Lech Poznan. The last game of the evening saw Welsh side TNS take on Belgian giants Anderlecht, new signing Sascha Klejstan scoring a goal on his debut after 7 mins, Legaer made it 2-0 after 18 minutes, TNS were given a lifeline when Jones made it 2-1, 7 minutes into the second half, but Matias Suarez made certain of the away victory, scoring Anderlecht’s third after 73 minute, Ariel Jacobs men will be confident of finishing the job back at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – Third Qualifying Round – 1st Leg – Fixtures

Along with Braga v Celtic there are 8 other games being played tonight;

Aktobe v Hapoel Tel Aviv
Sheriff Tiraspol v Dinamo Zagreb
Debrecen v Basel
AIK v Rosenborg
Partizan Belgrade v HJK Helsinki
BATE v Copenhagen
Ajax v PAOK
Young Boys v Fenerbahce

Some big games, Scandanavian derby between AIK and Rosenborg, and Ajax and Fenerbahce kick their campaign off, also tough away trips for Zagreb and Copenhagen, and what could be a very interesting game between Young Boys and Fenerbahce.

Nothing will be decided after tonight’s games, but teams have the opportunity to get one foot into the next round, I feel most teams will be trying just to make sure they don’t have one foot out the competition.

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Very interesting news came out on Friday; New French manager Laurent Blanc announced that all 23 members of the 2010 World Cup squad would not be picked for next month’s friendly against Norway. On Thursday the 5th of August Blanc will name the players pick for the match on August 11th, but who will he choose.

As an avid follower of French football this is a really interesting time, will he go for experience and steady the ship, or will he look to the future to set an example to the 23 players expelled that there is a future without them and that they are not automatic picks.

This morning I have had a look round the available players and had a go at picking a 18 man squad that I would pick for the match, a list of about 35 players was narrowed down to 24, and then the final cuts were made till I had the 18 men I could see taking the FFF forward.


#1 Mikael Landreau Lille Goalkeeper
#12 Nicola Douchez Rennes Goalkeeper
#15 Rod Fanni Rennes Defender
#2 Mathieu Debuchy Lille Defender
#3 Bruno Tremoulinas Bordeaux Defender
#4 Julian Escude Sevilla Defender
#5 Adel Rami Lille Defender
#6 Laurent Koscienly Arsenal Defender
#14 Rio Mavuba Lille Midfield
#16 Samir Nasri Arsenal Midfield
#17 Yohann Cabaye Lille Midfield
#18 Moussa Sissokho Toulouse Midfield
#7 Hatem Ben Arfa Marseille Midfield
#8 Lassana Diarra Real Madrid Midfield
#10 Kevin Gameiro Lorient Forward
#11 Jimmy Briand Lyon Forward
#13 Loic Remy Nice Forward
#9 Karim Benzema Real Madrid Forward

So let’s explain this squad a little;

In goals I have picked Lille’s Mikael Landreau, did extremely well to recover from a serious knee injury at the start of last season, a great shot stopper, bags of experience and I think it helps a back 4 if you have a Goalkeeper who has been there to talk you through the match, Nicola Douchez has impressed for Rennes so we would be the substitute, Landreau deserves his place between the sticks for his performances for Lille last season.

Rennes - Rod Fanni

My back four would be: Rod Fanni, Bruno Tremoulinas, Adel Rami and new Arsenal man Laurent Koscienly, at Left Back Tremoulinas adds instant width and an ability to deliver a fantastic cross that new Arsenal man Marouane Chamakh benefited from last season, Bruno can also defend, but I’ve picked him more for his attacking prowess. To balance the attacking instincts of the left back I’ve gone with Rod Fanni of Rennes at Right Back, he also loves to get forward, maybe doesn’t quite have the quality in his deliver but he’s big and strong and can defend well.

In the middle I have gone with a young pairing of Rami and Koscienly, Laurent who was signed for Arsenal has had a meteoric rise in the last 2 years from Tours to the Emirates, I would not bet against him pulling on the national jersey and excelling at this level too, beside him is a young player that’s impressed me loads in the past few years, Rami has been a rock in Lille’s defence for the last few years, constantly linked with moves to various clubs, mostly Lyon, he is great in the air, fast over the ground, and not afraid to get a boot in.

A strong back four, with youthful exuberance, power and pace, with the wise head of Landreau behind to keep them right.

The midfield will play with 2 sitting players and 3 attacking, my sitting players have been 2 of the best midfielders in France recently the tenacious Rio Mavuba and one of the best young midfielders in Europe Moussa Sissokho, Rio has been superb for Lille ever since his loan move from Villarreal, he’s added a needed composure on the ball, most Lille moves go through him, the brains behind Rudi Garcia’s successful team, Sissokho is a very talented very sought after man, often compared to Mamadou Diarra and Patrick Vieria, Moussa can play anywhere in midfield, I want him to provide the energy in defence as well as attack.

Jimmy Briand shows his pace

My attacking players bring not only a balance to the team but also a touch of mystique and creativity, Hatem Ben Arfa, Lassana Diarra and Jimmy Briand, Hatem and Lass don’t come with the best reputation for their attitudes but no one can deny their ability on the field, Lass provides an attacking option however he can also swap with Sissokho when the big man breaks forward, great distributor of the ball, great feet, would be an excellent spearhead to the attack, to the left of him would be Ben Arfa, undoubted skill, great confidence, maybe not as consistent as the top managers would like, however on his day he is up there with the best, to the right of Lass would be Lyon’s new signing Jimmy Briand “The new Henry” loves to play wide and cut inside, explosive pace, scores goals, a wonderful young talent, a handful for any defence, accustomed to playing wide at Rennes, we would be perfect in this role for Les Bleus.

The front man in my attack is not a well known player outside France and is actually still to decide if he wants to play for Blanc and the French but Kevin Gameiro’s 17 league goals last year was the best strike rate in France, also eligible to play for Portugal but he has come up through the French ranks, made his name at Strasbourg he was bought by Lorient to replace Andre-Pierre Gignac and his 28 goals in 2 seasons has certainly done the job, not the tallest player however he uses his body well and has that sixth sense some strikers have to find space, and he is deadly around the box.

What about Nasri and Benzema I hear you cry, very good questions, Benzema basically purely on form, he’s not made the jump to Madrid very smoothly and I feel the other players are ahead of him on that reason and with Nasri, if we were 5/6 weeks into the new season then maybe I would play him instead Diarra or Ben Arfa however a few preseason goals mean nothing to me.

I will be very interested to see Blanc’s squad on the 5th of August, even more interested to see how many I got right, and how close his team is to mine; I would leave to hear your thoughts on this, so please feel free to reply.

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  • #TransferNews Barca to make one more bid for Fabergas £40m take it or leave it, Real to turn to Evra after Chelsea say no for Cole #
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  • RT @oaocelticnews: OAO will be showing the game tonight live @ Midnight Kick-Off hail hail #
  • #ff for my french football fix #OffsideSarah @JFRacinet @ThomasLigue1 @LeFootyTipster keep up the good work #
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  • watching Celtic v Man Utd, very nice touch and finish from Berbatov, nice goal, Scholes also impressive so far #
  • lovely skills from Obertan and Berbatov there, Celtic on the back foot #
  • haha jinx PENALTY to Celtic, great pass from Mulgrew i think #
  • Goal great penality from Samaras top corner #
  • 3-1 United, Cleverley's shot take a massive deflection off O'Dea, 3-1 flatters United #
  • right bedtime, cheers for all the #ff #039;s today, Dad's coming down tomorrow so will be quieter on twitter #
  • really need to finish my team of the World Cup piece today, been lazy this week #

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Been so lazy since the end of the World Cup should have had this on sooner but where would a football blog be without picking my World Cup XI, nowhere, so to fall into line, and probably the umpteenth list you’ve read here’s my team, just a note I have picked this team as an actual team that I would hope has a balance that would work well together, so not England then.


For the English media this is been a revelation for anyone who watches football outside of the British Isles it’s a formation you will be well aware of, very successful throughout the tournament and dominating any team that tried to go 4-4-2 against it, I’m sure you’ll see more and more teams adapt to this system throughout the season.


“Too inexperience” “They’ll miss Ballack” “Not as good as past German teams” all these things were said about Low’s side before they had even kicked a ball, that all stopped once they played Australia, Low had picked a side with pace, athleticism, a really good team and work ethic, and on top of that he got his tactics spot on for the knockout stages until they came up against Spain, and even having the bravado to come out after the games and explain how he had beaten England and Argentina, I think this shows the confidence in the man, that’s the attitude I want in a leader of men.

Mentions: Oscar Tabarez (Uru) Bob Bradley (USA) Diego Maradona (Arg)

I found this a hard choice, quite a few keepers impressed in the Group Stage, and a few shown in the knockout stages, You have to pick someone that really turns up when it counts, Iker saved Paraguays penalty and Santa Cruz’s chance in the Quarters, then in the Final with Robben through on goal on his left foot, Casillas had the presence of mind to left his leg and provide the vital touch, keeping the game at 0-0 and of course Spain went on to win the trophy surely a pivotal moment and that’s what you want in a Goalkeeper, Stekenlenberg probably had a better final than Casillas, however when he was most needed he produced the good, Saint Iker indeed.

Mentions: Vincent Enyeama (Nig) Maarten Stekelenber (Ned) Eduardo (Por)

I will confess that Jorge is a player that wasn’t on my radar before the World Cup, with every game that I watched he just grew and grew, great performances against France and South Africa, Solid against Korea, he was unlucky to miss out against Holland in the Semi-Final and they really missed him, having to re think the whole system to nullify Robben, If Fucile had been there It would have been a different game I think, came back into the side against Germany and he didn’t miss a beat, Muller didn’t have an easy game, making him come inside more often, Fucile never looked out of position very often, the Porto full back has a good future ahead of him.

Mentions: Fabio Coentrao (Por) Gio Van Bronckhorst (Ned) Carlos Salcido (Mex)

Many sites and pundits I’ve read or listened to have mentioned Gerald Pique quite a few times, for me the rock in Spain’s defence has been Captain Fantastic himself, showing that he can play with the same passion and intensity as he can for Barcelona, he may not have the pace he once had, however his positioning and awareness is top notch, a few seasons ago questions had been asked of Puyol but under Guardiola he has blossomed again and looks like a defender on top of his game.

Mentions: Joris Mathijsen (Ned) Jonathan Mensah (Gha)

At 31 this was probably his last World Cup, with a disappointing season behind him (relegated with Hertha) he came to the tournament with question marks over his ability, I thought he answered all those critics, up against some young forwards Gyan, Defoe, Messi he never looked worried, dealt with all the youthful exuberance with a calmness and typical German efficiency, a nice way to finish his International career with his first goal for his country, and a derserved place in my team.

Mentions: Diego Godin (Uru) Antolin Alcaraz (Par)

High hopes were had for this Ajax youngster, picked him out in my 32 players to watch piece, and he didn’t let me down, look wise past his years, showing good positioning a willingness to get forward, maybe didn’t reach the byline as often as I would have likes but played well front to back, had a very solid final for such a young player, made some great challenges on Pedro and Iniesta and didn’t seem overawed by the occasion, a target now for some big teams, not surprising to be honest.

Mentions: Phillip Lahm (Ger) Sergio Ramos (Esp) Maicon (Bra)

I must confess I had not seen much of Bayern Munich this year, only the 2nd half of the later stages of the Champions League so I was unaware of how good Bastian had performed in his newly found position for his club, so seeing him play there for his country was new to me, and boy did he impress, always making sure he had time on the ball, the ability to beat a man to find more space, his passing was deliberate, some of the runs were superb exemplified by the run for Friedrich’s goal against Argentina, a joy to watch in the middle of the park, so commanding for what is still a young player.

Mentions: Mark Van Bommel (Ned) Michael Bradley (USA)

The heart of the Spanish engine room, I would call him the Leonardo Da Vinci of the Tiki-Taka masterpiece, so eloquent on the ball, made more passes than any other player in the tournament, I don’t remember a bad one, doesn’t break forward as often as he used to, he does find space better than most players in the world, just a joy to watch.

Mentions: Gilberto Silva (Bra) Raul Meireles (Por)

Big decision to make with this pick, could have easily been Wesley Sneijder but I think everyone got a little carried away with his performances, Mesut however took the World by storm, not a name everyone knew before the tournament his name is on the lips of the world now, great movement, vision, pace to beat a man, a youthful exuberance and naievity which makes him so dangerous.
Mesut has the world at his feet, I hope he can go on to delight us in future World Cups and seeing him develop more this season in the Bundesliga for Bremen (hopefully!)

Mentions: Wesley Sneijder (Hol)

This was a very hard decision, not whether Andres deserved to be in the team, but where to play him, I could have chosen him to play in Xavi’s role, Oezil’s role, which would have given space to Thomas Mueller, I think however, this decision for me brings balance to the side if it was an actual team, like he did for Spain Iniesta starts on the left but he has a license to roam into the midfield and provide support but is very active at breaking forward into the box and down the channels, lovely passer of the ball, finds space with ease, the awareness to know where and when to make runs is incredible, and compliments this with his goalscoring abilty, they say playing with great players makes the game easier, Andres must make it very easy.

Mentions: Robinho (Bra), Carlos Tevez (Arg), Jean Beausejour (Cho)

If the interest in the Spanish forward wasn’t already sky-high his move to Barcelona brought even more attention, after the first game when Spain failed to score and no one on the Spainish team impressed, it was Villa who announced the team to the tournament with his goal against Honduras, collecting the ball from the left, beat 2 men and his shot found the top corner, a quality goal that just summed up Villa’s excellence, he went on to score 5 goals in the tournament and was so important to the Spain team, without him they would not have reached the final.

Mentions: Luis Suarez (Uru), Asamoah Gyan (Gha), Luis Fabiano (Bra)

Voted player of the whole tournament and a very worthy winner, not only an excellent footballer but comes across as a really nice guy also, dangerous on both feet so I have no trouble playing him on the right, has the ability to come in off either flank, find space and if you give him space outside the box he will score goals, specialist from Free Kicks as he showed, the one person in the tournament that tamed the Jabulani ball, Captain and Cheerleader for his Country, a tremendous players, finally getting the Worldwide recognition for all his hard work, 2 Golden boots for his goals in La Liga and now a Golden Ball for his performances in South Africa.

Mentions: Thomas Mueller (Ger) - was so hard to leave him out, Arjen Robben (Ned), Lionel Messi (Arg)

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  • No Offence to Sporting Braga but I'm very happy with Celtic's draw, much prefer that than a trip to Russia/Ukraine or Ajax #
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  • RT @TimHi: For anyone who missed it earlier, my long piece on Mezut Ozil and his game absoulte superb post, bravo!!!! #
  • I really hope Efrain Juarez isn't one of those players linked with Celtic that excites me, then never comes. typical! #
  • **NEWS** SSN says Fulham have rejected a bid from Arsenal for Mark Schwarzer, would be a great signing I think #
  • according to @JamesPorteous Celtic have signed Mexican International Efrain Juarez subject to a work permit, really good signing IMO #
  • How on Earth can England go up a place in the FIFA Rankings after that dimsall performance!!!! #
  • Lets see what the transfer rumours are today, Ashley Cole to Real, Balotelli to Chelsea, City or United, Park C.Y to Liverpool #
  • Valdez to Sunderland, Taiwo to Spurs, Gervinho to Liverpool, Gyan to Fenerbahce, Sunderland or West Ham #
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