What Are The Chances Of Scottish Teams In Europe Next Season?
With Inverness’s Scottish Cup win, the Scottish European places are confirmed. Celtic will go through Champions League qualification, while Aberdeen, Inverness and Saint Johnstone will enter the Europa League. I take a team-by-team look ahead to their respective chances of progressing.
Celtic – Enter Champions League Second Qualifying Round
The goal for all four of these teams is to progress to the group stages of their respective European competition. For Celtic, that competition is the Champions League and, after missing out last season, the Parkhead club will be keen to return to the scene of past great nights such as those against Barcelona, AC Milan and Manchester United.
Last year’s qualification campaign was an unmitigated disaster, with Celtic knocked out of group stages qualifying not once, but twice. They were reinstated after Legia Warsaw fielded an ineligible player in their 6-1 win over the Bhoys, but the reprieve was little help as Celtic crashed out again in the next round versus Maribor.
This season, like last year, Celtic must pass three rounds of qualifying to win the group stage golden ticket; the second qualifying round, the third qualifying round and the play-off round must all be navigated. The second qualifying round – the stage where Celtic enter – will take place on 14th/15th July and on 21st/22nd July, with the draw taking place on 22nd June and possible opponents including Dundalk of Ireland, The New Saints of Wales and Sarajevo of Bosnia and Herzegovina, amongst others.
Making it through to the third qualifying round should be fairly simple, therefore, but that is when it could get tricky, as it did at this stage last season. Still, this year Ronny Deila will have the advantage of a full season to have studied his squad, as well as the fact that the home matches can be played at Celtic Park and not Edinburgh – as they were last year due to the Commonwealth Games.
Also in Celtic’s favour is the fact that they would enter the third qualifying round and the play-off round – should they get that far – as a league champion and would thus only play against other league winners, thus avoiding the likes of Manchester United, Valencia and Ajax.
Overall, their chances are much higher than they were last year, particularly with a summer off international duty for most players. Whether they bring in more key players than they lose will likely decide their fate.
Inverness – Enter Europa League Second Qualifying Round
As Scottish Cup winners, Inverness are permitted to skip one round of Europa League qualifying in this, their first ever season in European competition.
They will find out their opposition on the same date as Celtic of 22nd June, but with a poor coefficient they are likely to face a difficult opponent as they will not be seeded. The likes of West Ham, Copenhagen and Rosenborg are potential opponents at this stage.
Should Inverness progress further in their Euro adventure then they will still have two stages to navigate to reach the group stages. First up would be the third qualifying round where giants such as Borussia Dortmund, Athletic Club de Bilbao and Dynamo Moscow could be waiting.
No new teams enter at the play-off round, meaning that the potential opponents at this stage – the last before the group stages – would be the same as those in the third qualifying round.
Overall, it remains very unlikely that Inverness will reach the group stages, particularly if their cup success sees more stars follow Graeme Shinnie out the door. However, if they manage to avoid a nightmare draw in the second qualifying round then there is no reason why they can’t extend their Euro adventure to the third qualifying round and a potential glamour tie with one of European football’s top names.
Aberdeen – Enter Europa League First Qualifying Round
Aberdeen will be disappointed to have to begin their Europa League campaign at the very first stage.
Nevertheless, Aberdeen entered at this stage last year and duly dispatched with Daugava Riga 8-0 on aggregate, before Groningen were knocked out 2-1 in the second qualifying round. It was at the third hurdle that Aberdeen fell out the competition last year; not at all embarrassing since they had to face Real Sociedad, who they lost to 5-2 on aggregate.
This season there is no reason why Aberdeen cannot progress to the same stage or further. They are a stronger team than they were this time last year, having added the likes of the aforementioned Graeme Shinnie and Saint Mirren’s Kenny McLean. They pushed Celtic closer than any team has for a long time in this past season’s Scottish Premiership and finished 17 points behind, but only after having been within a couple of wins most of the season.
They will play their first round tie over the dates of 2nd and 9th July, also learning their opponents on 22nd June.
Saint Johnstone – Enter Europa League First Qualifying Round
It is all thanks to Inverness that Saint Johnstone are even in Europe; they duly took the time to tweet, “Thank you very much @ICTFC #EuropaLeague #4inarow.”
That last hashtag tells the next story, that this is the Saints’ fourth consecutive season in the Europa League qualifying stages. Not once, however, have they progressed to the group stages, instead falling to Eskişehirspor in the second qualifying round three seasons ago, Minsk in the third round two years ago and to Spartak Trnava at the same stage last campaign.
Like Aberdeen, they will be confident of at least returning to the third qualifying round this season and having drawn with Celtic and won away in Aberdeen to reach this far, the Saints are already showing they have the necessary fight for a European challenge.
With a higher coefficient than Aberdeen thanks to their recent Europa League exploits, the Perth side could enter the second qualifying round as a seeded team should they progress, thus avoiding the teams like West Ham, Copenhagen and Rosenborg that Inverness might face.