It may be Fair Friday and less than a week since last season ended with the World Cup final, but today the attention of Celtic fans turns to the new season and the 2010/ 11 Champions League.
The draw for the 3rd Qualifying Round for Non-Champions, as UEFA calls it, involved 10 teams. And this morning Celtic were drawn against the Portuguese side Sporting Braga.
It was perhaps the best draw from a group of possible opponents that included sides like Zenit St Petersburg and Dynamo Kiev, both of which would have involved long journeys to Eastern Europe.
Sporting Braga finished as runners up to Benfica in last year’s Portuguese league. This is their first foray into the Champions League but they do have European experience over recent seasons. Last season Braga failed in the qualifying stages of the Europa League, being defeated over two legs by IF Elfsborg of Sweden.
They are currently ranked as the 48th best team in Europe, just a few places above Celtic, who are currently 53rd.
This isn’t an easy draw by any means, but with the second leg at home there was to be a very good chance of qualification for Celtic. Braga wear the same strip as Arsenal, but not provide the same challenge as the club that ended Celtic’s hopes in the competition last season.
The football authorities have made many changes to the premier club competition over the years. In the old days of the European Cup it was pretty simple: all of the champions of Europe’s national leagues took part in a knock out competition.
But this didn’t suit the big leagues. Only one side from the likes of Spain and Italy qualified, putting them on a par with the smaller countries. And it didn’t suit the authorities either: they know they could make more money in TV deals and sponsorship if more of the big teams were involved.
And so the Champions League was born. Now the competition proper involved 32 teams in eight groups of four, and so there are plenty of money spinning matches.
There is also a complex ranking system to regulate access to the competition. The top ranked leagues (England, Spain and Italy) have four teams in the Champions League with three of these avoiding the qualifying rounds entirely. By the time you get to the 14th ranked league, which happens to be Belgium, even their champions have to go through a qualifying round.
Scotland has slipped down the rankings to 13th place. And that has meant Celtic face two qualifying rounds in an attempt to qualify for the lucrative group stages. Victory against Braga would see a play off against the likes of Seville, Werder Bremen or Spurs for that all important qualification to be secured.
It will be a tough task to get through the first tie, never mind the second, especially with a new manager and a squad still undergoing major reconstruction. But that’s the price that has to be paid for last season’s failure to win the championship.
And that’s a mistake that new manager Neil Lennon will be determined to put right this season.