Celtic 2015 – 2016 Europa League: Can they Recover from a Two-Draw Start?
Following their decisive victory in the 2014 – 2015 Scottish Premiership, the Celts earned a spot in the second qualifying round for Europe’s most prestigious club football tournament. The team did quite well in the qualifiers, too, crushing Iceland’s Stjarnan F.C. on a 6-1 aggregate in the second qualifying round and beating Azerbaijan’s Qarabağ Futbol Klubu 1-0 in the third round.
But while things started off well in the playoff round, with Celtic winning 3-2 in a home game against Sweden’s Malmo FF, they lost the second leg 2-0 to miss out on a group stage slot. Thus, the Celts were transferred over to the Europa League, where they’ve been drawn in Group A alongside Molde FK, AFC Ajax, and Fenerbahce.
A Slow Start in the Europa League
Whatever momentum Celtic seemed to have going for them in the earlier Champions League qualifiers seems to have evaporated since the Scottish soccer club arrived in the UEL. So far, the Celts have settled for a pair of 2-2 draws in their Group A fixtures.
The first, an away match against Dutch runners-up AFC Ajax, saw the two teams going shot for shot in a competitive fixture. With better defense, the Celts might have won the match. They took the lead just eight minutes into regulation time, with a goal from midfielder Nir Bitton. And after Ajax equalized with a goal of their own at the 24-minute mark, Celtic defender Mikael Lustig scored just before halftime to give the Scottish champs the lead once more. The Celts held the lead until the 84-minute mark, when Ajax finally netted an equalizer to force the 2-2 draw.
The second game, a home match against Fenerbahce, could also have been a win for the Celts. The home team were up two points just over a half hour into the game, with Leigh Griffiths and Kris Commons. But Fenerbahce’s Fernandao scored goals both right before and right after halftime to return the game to a stalemate. A drought of goals in the second half forced Celtic to settle for yet another 2-2 draw.
The Group A Standings (and Celtic’s Europa League Prospects)
Those outcomes put Molde at the top of the Group A table, with four points. Celtic and Ajax both have two points in the standings and zero in goal difference. Celtic are in second, having scored more goals (4) than Ajax (3). Fenerbahce, finally, are in fourth place with one point.
In other words, things are still fairly even in UEL Group A, and any of these teams could progress to the knockout stages. It will be interesting to see what Celtic can do against Molde in game three. The Celts will head to Norway for that match, which is scheduled for October 22nd.
Celtic could certainly still reach the round of 32. Last year, the Scottish champions had a record of two wins, two draws, and two losses in the group stage, and it was still enough to earn them a spot in the knockout stages. Granted, the Celts lost in the round of 32, on a 3-4 aggregate against Internazionale, but they at least progressed beyond the groups.
Celtic, of course, have never won the Europa League. While the football club did clinch a Champions League trophy back in 1967 (beating Inter Milan to win what was then known as the European Cup), they are still hunting for that UEL title.
The Celts came the closest in the 2002 – 2003 UEFA Cup (the former name of the Europa League), where they reached the finals, but lost 2-3 to Porto.
Could Celtic potentially win their first Europa League in 2016? Stranger things have certainly happened. However, the football club will have to recover from their slow group stage start if they are going to have any sort of title hopes. Root for the Celts today, with a new home jersey or Celtic shirt 2015 – 2016 from the Soccer Box store!