Scottish clubs in danger of Europa meltdown
Scottish giants Celtic made history in 1967 when they became the first British club to win the European Cup but fast forward 44 years and on Thursday they could be party to a piece of unwanted football history.
For all three Scottish clubs - Rangers and Hearts being the other two - are in danger of exiting the UEFA Europa League at the play-off stage and leaving no Scottish representatives in the group stages of either European club competition for the first time.
Celtic - who reached the 2003 UEFA Cup final - are in danger as they could only draw 0-0 at home to FC Sion last week while champions Rangers, UEFA Cup finalists as recently as 2008, are on the brink of going out of their second European competition in a month as they host Slovenian side NK Maribor. They already lost 2-1 on aggregate to the Swedes of Malmo in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round.
Hearts can realistically only hope to salvage some honour as they travel to English Premier League side Spurs after a 5-0 pasting by the London club last Thursday.
Celtic did not get the boost they required before the trip to Switzerland when they surprisingly lost 1-0 at home to St Johnstone at the weekend, leaving manager Neil Lennon raging. "We have to get over this one quickly," said the Northern Irishman.
More worryingly Lennon even questioned whether some of the players wanted to play for the club. "I don't know where some people's heads are, whether they want to be here or not."
However, forward Shaun Maloney insists a good performance in Sion will set them back on the right track. "After dissecting the game we'll have to start focusing on the Sion game," he told Celtic View. "And that match takes on even more importance, considering the weekend's results and the first leg result.
"It's vitally important. We were obviously hoping we would be coming into the game after a very good performance at the weekend. And for 45 minutes we did. But now we will be going into the Sion game coming off a bad result. So we'll see how we cope. It's days like this that will prove how far the team's come."
Home challenge for Rangers
Rangers at least got an away goal to give them reason to be optimistic although Scottish international striker Steven Naismith is ruled out through suspension. However, he is confident that his team-mates can pull off a victory. "It's disappointing that I am suspended but I am sure that the boys who come in will have enough to get past Maribor and qualify," he told Blue News.
Celtic and Rangers are not the only big clubs in danger of being eliminated, although AS Roma should be able to turn things round when they host Slovakian outfit Slovan Bratislava 1-0 down from the first leg.
Schalke 04 face the humiliation of going from last season's UEFA Champions League semi-finals to missing out on the group stages of Europe's secondary competition as the German Cup holders host HJK Helsinki trailing 2-0.
HJK coach Antti Muurinen said that their first-leg result was the greatest in the club's history but added that it would be wasted if they failed to finish off the Germans. "It will be a tough challenge for us in the second leg," Muurinen told uefa.com. "Two goals scored and none conceded - that is good for us, but Schalke remain the favourites to win the tie. We cannot just defend in the second leg, that would be suicide."