Friday, 5 October 2007

Scottish football's glorious ascent?

What an incredible few weeks it has been for that little regarded beast, Scottish football. From the national team' s second 1-0 victory against world beaters France at the Stade de France, right through to Aberdeen's progress into the lucrative group stages of the EUFA cup, courtesy of an unexpected elimination of Dnipro, it's hard not to feel buoyed. Meanwhile, Rangers have stunned commentators with victories against Lyon and Stuttgart, and Celtic defeated reigning European Champions AC Milan earlier this week.

For me, the triumph of Aberdeen was especially sweet. It's many years since they and Dundee United were hailed as 'the New Firm' and seriously threatened the Celtic-Rangers duopoly. That night in 1983 when they beat Real Madrid 2-1 to claim the European Cup Winners' Cup will stay etched in my mind forever. Only a couple of weeks ago they were languishing near the foot of the SPL. When Dnipro drew 0-0 at Pittodrie the Dons were written off as 2007 Euro contenders , following last season's significant third-place EUFA qualification achievement. Then Darren Mackie (pictured) turned the tables again with a 28 minute goal in Ukraine on Wednesday night.

But Scottish football still has a long way to go. Celtic have had to learn very fast after their 0-2 Champions League humbling at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk, which I witnessed in an embarrassingly quiet pub in Dunblane during my recent trip north of the border. (I was due to watch East Stirling take on Morton that night, but that's another story of unlikely all-ticket cup games).

For Rangers the moment of truth will be when they face the might of Barcelona. We should take nothing away from their endeavours against Lyon, but the idea that the Scottish Premier League is better than the French League is pure fantasy. Scotland, too, have an uphill task to qualify for the European Championships, after heroics in the qualifiers so far. And Aberdeen will find the EUFA group stage mighty hard going.

What's more, the game in Scotland still suffers from the top heavy weight of the Old Firm, vast economic and demographic disadvantages, and the undeserved disregard of the wider media. But this only makes this series of unexpected victories so inspiring. That plus a good bit of perspiration can push the Scottish game forward, no doubt. It'll be tough, though.

[Picture (c) and courtesy of SNS]

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