Just four weeks after a Scotland team containing Callum McGregor, James Forrest (off the bench) and Scott Bain (on the bench) were picked apart by Belgium, marking the end of the 2018/19 season, here we again about to play our first competitive match of the 2019/20 season.
Both of these fixtures are UEFA competitions, so it should be clear who is to blame for the ridiculous schedules that players now have to face.
Celtic go into the first qualifying round of the Champions League courtesy of an eighth league title in a row, and will hope to do better than we managed in last season’s competition. The mess of the transfer sagas hit us hard when we played AEK Athens in the third qualifying round and we ended up playing out the rest of our European campaign in the Europa League. We’ll be hoping we don’t end up there until at least after Christmas this time.
The particular transfer saga that happened during that AEK Athens tie was the one involving Dedryck Boyata. Ultimately that cost us not only that tie, but any chance of a transfer fee for the Belgian as he has gone on to Hertha Berlin on a Bosman. The other big name loss for us is that of Mikael Lustig, who has moved to Gent on a free deal too.
Indeed, everyone who has left Celtic in the summer so far has gone for nothing. Mostly it’s unused youth players of whom you may not have heard. But we’ve also lost Cristian Gamboa and Emilio Izaguirre so it’s a good thing we’ve seen Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo and Christopher Jullien come in as we were looking a little light at the back!
Oh yes, and the bold Marvin Compper has been released too. It’s pretty bad when even I’ve played more minutes at Celtic Park than he has. I probably made as many howlers as well, at least Morton didn’t capitalise on his.
Luca Connell has also joined Celtic this summer, and with January signing Marian Shved completing his loan back to Karpath Kyiv there’s already a few new faces joining up. Sadly Shved is injured for the game today, as are Jack Hendry and Vakoun Issouf Bayo.
Our opponents today are the Bosnian champions FK Sarajevo, which means Celtic now chalk up another country visited in our European exploits. Even when Bosnia was still part of Yugoslavia we never faced a team from that part of the country, so this is new territory for us.
Not that Sarajevo weren’t important back then, indeed they won the Yugoslav league in 1967, so maybe if we’d lasted more than one round as reigning European champions we could have gone on to meet them! As it was, they were knocked out in the second round by the team that went on to take our crown – Manchester United.
Their only other Yugoslav championship came in 1985, and due to the war in Bosnia in the 1990s it was a while before football was important again. They narrowly missed out on winning the very first Bosnian league, losing out to a team called Celik.
You do the jokes.
The didn’t manage to win the league for the first time until 1999, but since then have gone on to win it in 2007, 2015 and of course 2019. Perhaps most significantly though, this was also their first domestic double as they won the Bosnian Cup for a sixth time.
Their record in Europe isn’t great. In the top competition they’ve featured four times. They’ve only won three ties in that time, two of which came in 2007 when they reached the third qualifying round only to lose to Genk. The other came just prior to their aforementioned defeat to Manchester United.
The UEFA Cup and Europa League doesn’t read much better, having never reached the group stages and only ever playing at most three rounds in any season. Last season they were thumped 8-0 at home by Atalanta of Italy, losing in the second qualifying round 10-2 on aggregate. Yes they did draw 2-2 in Italy!
The goals last season came from 34 year old striker Mersudin Ahmetovic and midfielder Amar Rahmanovic… and that’s about as much as I know about them. I know that the draw could have been kinder to us since Sarajevo were the joint highest non-seeded team we could have met. But then the second qualifying round draw in both the Champions League and the Europa League was kinder, so maybe it balances out for us.
Yep, so many draws have taken place that we actually know that we will play one of four teams depending on whether or not we win our tie and who else wins theirs. That’s what happens when you cram four rounds of two legged ties into eight midweeks!
There’s no point looking too far ahead of ourselves though. We have a job to do against Sarajevo first, and it will be a tricky one. We have Leigh Griffiths back scoring goals again, and hopefully he’ll be joined by Odsonne Edouard soon enough with others from midfield and even defence weighing in as always. It was mostly youngsters that scored against SC Pinkafeld in our first pre-season friendly, and unfortunately no one scored against St Gallen. But these pre-season games are always just for warming up and no one should look too much into them.
What we do tonight is what matters, and I’m sure the players won’t need to be told that. Whatever happened in the last few months of last season is now behind us, and this is once again most definitely Neil Lennon’s Celtic team. Lennon took us to the Champions League group stages on two occasions in his first four seasons in charge of Celtic, hopefully he can make it a third season come the end of August.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)