Champions League draw
All eyes were on Monaco yesterday as the draw for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League took place.
The annual ritual whereby Europe’s elite discover the identity of the fodder they will consume throughout the autumn months, has long since lost its lustre. However, big spending Manchester City ‘s entry into the competition for the first time, did at least offer the unusual prospect of one or two interesting group matches.
As it transpired, City were drawn in one of the tougher groups alongside Bayern Munich, Villarreal and Napoli. A rare, possibly unprecedented occasion when teams from the four highest-rated leagues have been drawn together.
Elsewhere, holders Barcelona were drawn to face Italian champions, Milan, in an encounter that will reunite Zlatan Ibrahimovic with Pep Guardiola.
It’s fair to say that the pair did not part on the best of terms, with the Swede saying of his former coach: “He always wants to look like a philosopher. He reminds me a bit of Mahatma Gandhi when he is preparing his team. He was my only problem at Barcelona.”
And when Johan Cruyff weighed in to defend his protege, Ibra responded: “I think Cruyff should be in a mental hospital with Guardiola.”
Zenit St Petersburg
The evening in Monaco was also something of a celebratory affair with Lionel Messi awarded the inaugural UEFA Best Player in Europe award on Thursday, finishing ahead of Barcelona team mate Xavi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
You’d think he’d be sick of receiving these awards, but no, the 24-year-old, already the World Footballer of the Year, said he was hungry for more.
“I keep all these awards at home and I still have some space for more,” he said.
You can picture Cristiano Ronaldo scowling when he heard that.
In 1967 Celtic became the first British team, and only Scottish team, to win the European Cup, and to make that achievement even more memorable, all members of the side were all born within a 30-mile radius of Glasgow.
In 2011 Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Dundee United, with players culled from all four corners of the globe, failed to make it through to the Europa League group stages.
It’s a sad state of affairs for Scottish football, but try telling that to Celtic boss Neil Lennon, who described his team’s performance against Swiss outfit, Sion, as “brilliant”.
“I can’t fault the players, they were brilliant,” he said after the 3-1 defeat. “They played for 87 minutes with 10 men and played excellently.”
I suppose when you’re receiving death threats over the phone and bullets through the post, then a Europa League defeat is unlikely to upset you that much.
Across the city of Glasgow, Rangers, who only a matter of weeks ago harboured hopes of qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League, were knocked out of the Europa League by Slovenian champions Maribor.
Rangers’ boss Ally McCoist, resorted to the random cliche generator to explain his side’s exit.
“We’ve been here before,” he said. “You sink or you swim and sinking’s not an option, so you swim and we get back in tomorrow and we start swimming again and we’ll get on with it.
“We all have to stick together, every one of us, whether it’s the players, the management, the fans. We’ve all got to regroup, stick together and we’ll get through this.
A note of realism was struck by Scottish Football Association chief executive, Stewart Regan, who told BBC Scotland: “It’s a real low point for the Scottish game. “We’ve just lost our way. I wouldn’t want to call it a crisis because that implies that you are not able to do something about it. I think we can.
“At the moment, we’ve got a big job to do and a long way to go. The solution lies in our own hands.
“I have had the greatest feedback ever on a Twitter debate tonight and there has been some fantastic ideas coming through.”
Presumably, one of them was: get off Twitter and do your job!
Irish eyes smiling
While Scotland indulges in a long-overdue bout of reflection, Irish club football enjoyed one of the greatest days in its’ history when Shamrock Rovers knocked out Partizan Belgrade. The result meant that Rovers’ became the first team from Ireland to reach the knockout stages of a European Cup Competition.
The turning point was Pat Sullivan’s stunning long range volley, which brought the scores level and took the game into extra time.
The opening weekend of the Serie A season will not go ahead due to strike action by players in Italy’s top flight.
The Italian Players Union (AIC) is unhappy about clubs trying to force players to move in the last year of their contracts.
The AIC confirmed the news after talks over a collective agreement regarding players’ rights broke down.
AIC president Damiano Tommasi said: “There will be no Serie A this weekend. We tried right up until the end, but ultimately all the talks were in vain.”
The most worrying aspect of the impasse is that there appears no end in sight. Tommasi warned “it could take months, not 15 days” to resolve the conflict.
The buck stops here
FIFA has banned North Korea from the 2015 Women’s World Cup after five players tested positive for steroids at the tournament last month.
The Koreans came up with a novel excuse for their players failing the drugs tests: officials said the five were treated with musk deer gland after being struck by lightning at a training camp.
In July, FIFA’s chief medical officer Jiri Dvorak said after extensive testing, “we can really say with far-reaching confidence that these steroids were the result of this so-called Chinese traditional medicine.”
Goal of the day
Palemiras’ Marcos Assuncao produced a stunning effort in the last minute of his side’s 3-3 draw with Vasco da Gama.
Biting off your nose…
In what could deemed to be a principled stance (or possibly demented), Fenerbahce have asked the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) to consider relegating them from the Super League because of the country’s match-fixing scandal.
The move comes two days after the federation removed Fenerbahce from the Champions League despite allowing it to continue playing in Turkey’s Super League.
Fenerbahce Vice President Ali Kocsaid the club is willing to play in the second-tier league in protest.
Coach Aykut Kocaman says, “If we are not in the Champions League, why are we in the Super League?”
On the move
Tottenham are reported to be closing in on a deal for Brazilian forward Leandro Damiao. The 22-year-old enhanced his reputation the other night, scoring twice as Internacional defeated Independiente to win the Recopa Sudamericana.
Could there be a European reprieve for Celtic? There’s certainly a glimmer of hope for the Scottish side as UEFA has warned their Europa League conquerors, Sion, that they face being kicked out of the competition.
UEFA is unhappy that Sion used players signed in the off-season in apparent disregard of a FIFA transfer ban.
“It signed players and then played these players in clear violation of the ban,” UEFA President Michel Platini said.
Celtic lodged an official protest after the first-leg match in Glasgow and although Sion havebeen included in today’s draw, the Scottish side could be reinstated.
“Sion will be in the draw but on the condition that there is this protest which will be looked at by the (UEFA) disciplinary body,” UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said.