The mass migration of butterflies overnight into stomachs all over timland means that the roller coaster ride that is champions league football is finally upon us. Benfica, the opponents tonight in Glasgow have turned up, which means the game is on. They will be without captain Luisao, as reports indicate FIFA have said his ban for headbutting a referee will stand outside Portugal. somehow though, you get the feeling we’ve not heard the last of this…
They will definitely be without Carlos Martins, their main playmaker, and right back Maxi Pereira, who is suspended.
Celtic go into the game without Samaras, Kayal, Ledley, McCourt and Twardzik, but Charlie Mulgrew and Scott Brown will feature, having shaken off their respective injury problems. Tactics are not my strong point, and predicting a system or line up is nigh on impossible with Neil Lennon, but I’d expect to see Forster in goal, Matthews and Izzaguerra at full back, with Ambrose and Wilson at centre half. Charlie Mulgrew left, Victor Wanyama centre and Scott Brown on the right hand side of midfield, which would allow the backs to roam forward with cover behind them. James Forrest and Kris Commons would then provide outlets on either side with Gary Hooper ploughing a furrow up front.
But what do I know?
Our opponents this evening, by European standards have become familiar faces over the last few years, this will be our third meeting in the last seven years, and a measure of the reconstruction of the playing side under Lennon, only Scott Brown will recognise the team. Its all new for the rest of them, and if Brown is staring at anyone tonight, its likely to be because he thinks he knows them.
Sport Lisboa de Benfica, to give them their full name , is actually a multi sports club based in Portugals capital. Rugby , basketball ,judo and athletics all feature, but of course its the football club which is the most famous and successful. Benfica have an official fanbase of 14 million supporters, holding a place in the Guiness book of records for the club with the most members, and are far and away the most successful club in Portugal, although in recent years they have been eclipsed by Porto.
Benfica have been in an impressive eight European finals, and have won the European cup twice, in 1961 and retaining it in 62. They also made a further three finals in the sixties, and were considered the best team in Europe in 1968 by France football magazine, which is clearly bollocks. There was a far better team which won the European Cup in Lisbon just twelve months before which was feared throughout Europe as well. Ah, but we had a strong Rangers in those days.
There are a lot of similarities with Celtic. Benfica have their own weekly newspaper, a tv channel and their away strip is primarily black, and if it affects their players the same way Celtics black strip affects them, then lets hope they wear it tonight.
Sky Sports 3 are showing the game for those who cannot get to the ground, but anyone who is within about fifteen miles of Celtic Park needs only to open their windows to hear the noise.
No feeling of happiness with one’s own lot can be complete without a chuckle at the demise of the other lot. Last night, plucky, cash strapped Third division Rangers valiantly held out to second division Queen of the south only to go down on penalties in a night of high comedy, sorry I meant drama at Ibrox.
In front of dozens of fans, McCoists men thought they were through, but the superior fitness and technical skills of the higher placed club meant that as Rangers withered toward the end, Queens could take advantage.
Facing a backlash from disappointed Rangers fans, Charles Green explained that he had been told that Ally McCoist was an experienced and capable manager, and he apologised for the poor start, but a friend of his knew a man who could help
McCoist himself, and I am not making this up, said his priority was always the league. just as well really, considering his piss poor record in cup competitions.
Although Celtic has its own troubles , Peter Lawwell announced yesterday that the clubs debts have risen to £2.77m, an increase on last years amount of around £2m. This doesn’t take into account champions league money or the sale of key, and the increase may actually be down to the purchase of Fraser Forster.
The club lost around £7m, with turnover down and an increase in operating profits. but its still no excuse to charge over the odds for substandard burgers and stick a huge surplus on goods bought in the club shop , justifying it by saying money goes straight into the club. They’ll never learn.
However, with the UCL money and the sale of a reserve midfielder, then things actually look quite comfortable at the moment.
Finally, yesterdays teaser had a few people thinking. A weee clue, these guys are not the only ones to have done it, Jimmy McGrory did it more times than anyone, but even he couldn’t do it as quickly as Mark Burchill.
Enjoy the game, and bring back the thunder.