“Wow. Wow. Wow.”
Firstly, I’d like to take this chance to congratulate everyone at Celtic Football Club for their performance over the last two nights, at St Mary’s in the Calton on Tuesday, and then at Celtic Park on Wednesday. The players, Neil Lennon and the staff wholeheartedly deserve the tremendous amount of praise that is being heaped upon them at the moment. They were magnificent.
Briefly, I feel there are three other groups of people who deserve congratulations for their performance last night. Firstly, the Barcelona supporters, who once again showed themselves to be fantastically friendly people, even after a defeat for their side. Secondly, the Celtic fans, who sung their hearts out and supported their team with passion, faith, and vigour. Finally, the actions of a select few last night (and over the past months in terms of organisation etc) will go down in Celtic’s history in a similar manner to the result itself. I am, of course, referring to the Green Brigade, whose display wowed football fans, young and old, inside Celtic Park and around the world. It was a privilege to be a part of their display, and to be a part of last night. I’m sure you’d all agree that it is a night that will live long in the memory.
Now, onto the possible scenario’s with regards to the next two matches in the Champion’s League group stage. As you can see below (thanks to the BBC for the table), Celtic currently sit second in Group G:
In the next round of matches, we travel to Benfica, whilst Spartak Moscow will take on Barcelona in Russia. The final round of matches will see Spartak Moscow visit Celtic Park, and Benfica travel to the Camp Nou. At this stage, it is worth remembering that teams who finish the group with the same number of points are separated primarily by their head to head record, then their goal difference, and then total goals scored if, indeed, they find themselves to have an identical goal difference. If, incredibly, they have finished the group with the same number of points, the same goal difference, and the same number of goals scored, they will be separated dependent on who has had the highest UEFA ranking in the last five seasons, but this (to my knowledge) has never happened before.
PLEASE NOTE: Head to head records work as follows. If, for example, team A defeat team B at home and draw with them away from home, team A have a better head to head record. However, if team A defeat team B at home and then loss in the return match, this does not nullify the head to head record, and leave it to goal difference. Scores are then taken into account, so in the same way a 5-0 win would beat a 1-0 win, a 3-3 draw away and a 1-1 draw at home would send the team who scored more away from home through.
Scenario 1 – Barcelona Defeat Spartak Moscow, Celtic Defeat Benfica
Barcelona required at least a draw last night to guarantee their place in the knock out rounds of the competition. However, having been beaten by the Bhoys, Barcelona will not be able to relax in their final two matches, which is good from our point of view, as they have to play both of our main rivals for second place. Now, if Barcelona beat Spartak Moscow, and Celtic win in Benfica, both winning sides will guarantee themselves with a place in the next round of the Champions League.
Scenario 2 – Barcelona Defeat Spartak Moscow, Celtic Draw With Benfica
If this happens, Barcelona will secure their place in the knock out stages. However, Celtic wouldn’t quite be out of the woods yet. A 0-0 draw in Lisbon would mean that the head to head aspect of qualification would be nullified, as both matches would have ended in a goalless tie. However, any scoring draw would take Celtic through, as our head to head record would be superior thanks to away goals. Therefore, the only thing that could stop Celtic proceeding to the knock out rounds (through this scenario) would be a 0-0 draw and goal difference. Presently, Celtic have a better goal difference (by two) when compared with Benfica. However, it is worth remembering that Benfica will have to travel to the Camp Nou for their final match.
Therefore, through this scenario, the only way Celtic would fail to qualify would be if Benfica beat Barcelona at the Camp Nou, and Celtic lost to Spartak Moscow in Glasgow. This is somewhat unlikely, but you can never rule anything out in football. Even then, we would still drop into the Europa League, and have European Football to enjoy in 2013.
Scenario 3 – Barcelona Defeat Spartak Moscow, Benfica Defeat Celtic
Now, the bookmakers will tell you that this is the most likely set of results in the next round of matches. Once again, Barcelona would qualify, and in doing so, confirm top spot in the group. Benfica and Celtic however, would go into the final night of matches neck and neck. If Benfica defeat us by one goal, the goal differences will be identical too.
However, whilst this wouldn’t be an ideal scenario, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. As discussed above, we would progress to the last round of matches with the easier of the two final games, and we would need to better Benfica’s result that night to secure our place in the last sixteen. This wouldn’t be impossible as we have a home match, and Benfica need to visit the Camp Nou.
And, even if it all went wrong, we would, once again, find ourselves in the Europa League in 2013.
Scenario 4 – Barcelona Draw With Spartak Moscow, Celtic Defeat Benfica
An unlikely outcome in the minds of the bookies, but a possibility nonetheless. This scenario would guarantee both Barcelona and Celtic their places in the knock out stages. If Celtic won in Lisbon by three goals or more, we would, amazingly, find ourselves top of the group. If we won by two, we would be second (on goals scored) unless Barcelona and Spartak Moscow was a 0-0 draw, in which case it would be a dead heat between ourselves and the Catalans. When match day six came around, two sides would be competing for first place in the group, whilst the other two strived to win the Europa League spot.
Scenario 5 – Barcelona Draw With Spartak Moscow, Celtic Draw With Benfica
If this happens, Barcelona will book their place in the last sixteen, whilst things will be looking good for Celtic (as discussed above). We would not be home and dry if it was a 0-0 draw in Lisbon, but unless Benfica beat Barcelona in the Camp Nou and we lost at Celtic Park, we’d be through. As noted above, a score draw would take us through regardless.
Scenario 6 – Barcelona Draw With Spartak Moscow, Benfica Defeat Celtic
This set of results could, potentially , “open a whole can of worms”. Barcelona would qualify, as ten points would be enough to see them through, even if it was in second place at worst. However, Celtic and Benfica would find themselves level on points, with all of the potential outcomes that are discussed in more detail above.
However, Spartak would find themselves with four points, and a small chance. Granted, it would require a big goal difference swing, but still. If Barcelona beat Benfica on the last day, and Spartak Moscow beat Celtic, three teams would find themselves level on seven points. We would be in bother if this was the case, as Benfica and Spartak (whilst having identical head to head’s against each other), could hold better head to head’s against us and send us out in fourth place. Well, Benfica definitely would, as they would have drawn and beaten us, but the result at Celtic Park would be critical.
In truth, this outcome is unlikely, but it is difficult to predict the exact results if it were to happen. Goals on the final night could decide exactly how the table finished. The best Celtic could hope for would be Europa League football though, as Benfica’s head to head record would put them above us in the table.
Scenario 7 – Spartak Moscow Defeat Barcelona, Celtic Defeat Benfica
If this happens, Celtic will find themselves on top of the group by one point from Barcelona. Celtic would be through, and, amazingly, Barcelona wouldn’t be safe going into the final day. Granted, a huge goal difference swing, as well as another loss to Benfica and a win for Spartak at Celtic Park would be required to put them out, but it is possible.
In reality though, if this scenario happens in a fortnight, we will most likely see Celtic and Barcelona battle it out for top place in the group, with Celtic knowing any win against Barcelona would astonishingly, leave the Hoops at the summit of group G.
Scenario 8 – Spartak Moscow Defeat Barcelona, Celtic Draw With Benfica
If this were to occur, Celtic would find themselves in a group which was wide open. Barcelona would find themselves on nine points, Celtic eight, Spartak Moscow six, and Benfica five. Fundamentally, a win or a draw on the final day against Spartak Moscow would secure a place in the last sixteen of the Champions League. However, a draw in Benfica would no longer be enough to automatically secure our progression, as Spartak would suddenly become a threat.
If we lost to Spartak Moscow, and Barcelona drew with, or defeated Benfica, we would find ourselves playing Europa League football. With a Spartak victory, and a win for Benfica, the Russians could still amazingly find themselves top of the group, albeit this is somewhat unlikely.
Importantly, our draw in Benfica would secure us Europa League football at worst (presuming it was a score draw).
Scenario 9 – Spartak Moscow Defeat Barcelona, Benfica Defeat Celtic
Once again, this result would cause potential chaos on the final night of matches. Barcelona would lead both ourselves and Benfica by two points, with Spartak Moscow a single point behind the teams from Glasgow and Lisbon. If this occurs, theoretically at least, anyone could go through (dependent on head to head records and possible outcomes on the night itself). I’m not going to lie. These possibilities hurt my head when I think about them, so I won’t bore you any further with them. We’ll cross this bridge when we come to it!