By: Scott McGlynn
Scottish clubs featured in both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League qualifying rounds this week with champions Celtic being joined by Aberdeen, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Johnstone as another early season of qualifying rounds await the Scottish teams.
Celtic have been drawn against Icelandic champions Stjarnan as they look to negotiate three qualifying rounds in their bid to reach the Champions League group stages. Having missed out on qualification last season, Ronny Deila is aiming to lead Celtic to the group stages in his second season in charge. Some have asked whether Celtic should have to face three qualifying rounds, having in recent years reached the final 16 of the tournament but with the way that the UEFA coefficient ranking system works the results of all Scottish teams is taken into account to give a national ranking as opposed to an individual club ranking.
In the Europa League, second placed Aberdeen have been drawn against KF Shkendija from Macedonia as they start their second consecutive European campaign. Derek McInnes and his team were knocked out at the third qualifying stage by Spanish side Real Sociedad last season and they will be hoping to go two steps further this season and reach the Europa League group stage for the first time since 2007. Although perhaps unlikely to reach the European glory nights of the 1980’s under manager Sir Alex Ferguson, McInnes will be hoping that his team can play to their potential and give themselves the opportunity of reaching this season’s group stages.
St Johnstone finished fourth in the Scottish Premier last season but qualify due to third placed Inverness Caledonian Thistle winning the Scottish Cup. Cup winners in season 2013-14, St Johnstone now face their third consecutive European campaign – a fantastic achievement for the club from Perth. Having been eliminated at the third qualifying stage in the past two seasons, manager Tommy Wright will be hoping that they can improve on this record and has set his sights on his team reaching the group stages. They face Armenian side Alashkert in their first round game and they will be hoping for a comfortable victory over the side that finished fourth in the Armenian league last season.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle have enjoyed their most successful season in their short history, finishing third in the Scottish Premier League and also winning the Scottish Cup for the very first time with a 2-1 victory over Scottish Championship side Falkirk in last month’s final at Hampden Park in Glasgow. As cup winners, they enter the Europa League in the second qualifying round and they have been drawn to face Astra Giurgiu from Romania as they embark on their ever foray into European competition. The Romanian team are no strangers to Scottish opposition having faced Celtic home and away in last season’s Europa League group stage and they will provide a tough test for Inverness.
To qualify for the Europa League group stages, Aberdeen are best price 2.75 (7/4), Inverness Caledonian Thistle are 3.5 (5/2) and St Johnstone are a best price 6 (5/1).