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Celtic need Uefa Cup lifeline

Chick Young | 16:46 UK time, Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Launch the Uefa Cup lifeboat. It's the only salvation for Celtic now.
With only two matches down and 12 points still up for grabs, it's still mathematically possible for Gordon Strachan's side to reach the last 16 of the Champions League.

But football isn't played by mathematicians. The stark truth is that Manchester United and Villarreal are acts too classy for the Scottish champions. It's jackets off for a straight fight with Aalborg for the Uefa Cup place.

Celtic players reflect on the 1-0 defeat by Villarreal
Even Gordon Strachan admitted it's an uphill battle now. In fact, he raised the altitude level. "A mountain to climb," was his view of the football landscape.

You can slice this any way you like, but Manchester United and Villarreal will go through from Group E because they are richer and have the ability to attract better players.

And the champions of Denmark are out of their depth, too.

I actually thought Celtic played well in Spain and, in a world of ifs, buts and maybes, Georgios Samaras's chance - and the fact that the game's only goal came from a free-kick that should never have been awarded - might have added up to a sob story.

But that would be to ignore the big picture and just watch the trailer.

The free-kick by Marcos Senna was an awesome reminder of the quality of a player who strode through the European Championship for Spain.

There isn't a team on earth who wouldn't want to enjoy his talents.

There are, of course, thrilling moments to come in this majestic competition and the prospect of bronze in the section will be sidelined in the epic fixtures to come in Glasgow's east end and Old Trafford.

But here's the truth: Aalborg have waded beyond their paddling distance and are in a perilous position.

It will astound me if they take another point before Celtic travel to Denmark.

So, if Strachan can conjure a victory on the other side of the North Sea on 25 November - with the Danes to finish in Manchester - they will be assured of a safe landing in the Uefa Cup.

And that, as Rangers supporters will confirm, can lead to all sorts of high-jinks.

Cluj, Rosenborg and others who go about their business in a universe parallel to that of football's glitterati will laugh at Celtic's dismal record on the road.

They've proved you can go through boarding gates and still win football matches.

And, of course, the aforementioned Rangers turned over-achievement into an art form last season.

But, sometimes, you have to face the harsh dawn of reality.

And Celtic - who can be good - are not good enough to eliminate Manchester United and Villarreal from proceedings in Group E.

They can go about the matches against the European champions relishing encounters that will attract the attention of the football world.

But it is in Denmark a month before Christmas that Celtic will have the chance to prove that seedings don't lie.

This is the last Uefa Cup before it is re-branded and reshaped.

My wager is that, privately, Celtic would now settle for being part of its farewell party.


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