by Rob Shepherd
The Champions League is back
Over the past decade what used to be know as the European Cup has evolved into a de facto European Super League.
With the Super Clubs virtually guaranteed participation, a sense of embarking on a weird and wonderful mystery tour has to a large degree been lost.
Given the seeded format of the Group stages so too has the spine tingling cut and thrust of sudden death in the early stages.
But Group H – Celtic’s Group – throws up a spicy taste of the past. If not ‘The Group of Death’ – that could be Arsenal’s – its more like ‘The Group of Romance’;
Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax & Celtic.
All four are steeped in the colourful heritage of the competition. Celtic of course were the first British side to win the European Cup when they beat Inter Milan in Lisbon in 1967.
This season’s final is in Lisbon, but not even a New Romantic could expect history to repeat itself. In the hard nosed football world where money DOES buy success it’s too far fetched to hope for Lisbon Lions II.
But there will be a few teary eyed Green Glaswegian granddads who will well up over the next few weeks as The Bhoys play it out on the big stage. They won’t be able to resist recalling the exploits of McNeill, Johnstone, Auld et all to their bairns.
And while some bookies make Celtic 750/1 no-hopers to lift the trophy there is every prospect of them causing an upset or two on the way.
AC Milan, who boasted one of the all time great European Cup teams in the late Eighties, have already expressed caution ahead of their opening game against Neil Lennon’s side in the opening game at the San Siro.
That Milan are 50/1 emphasises they are a long way from being the force they were when they had the three Dutch masters, Rijkaard, Van Basten and Gullit, in their team.
Ajax, who had the dominant team of the early Seventies with Cruyff, Krol and Neeskens are 200-1 outsiders and could be vulnerable.
As for Barcelona, will the great team of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and now Neymar, bounce back after the disappointment of last season..? Barca are 9/2 second favourites behind holders Bayern Munich.
What is for certain is the atmosphere at Celtic’s three home games especially will be a throwback to the days when on the big European nights even the poshest punters would drink Bovril not Bollinger.
And as for the away trips; well for this generation of Celtic supporters it will be a bit like the Yellow Brick Road.
Chelsea to win it all? With Jose Mourinho on an unfinished business mission to win the CL with The Blues 9/1 is decent punt.
Dark Horse: The latest mega bucks side Paris St Germain are interesting at 16/1.
As for a decent long shot: Napoli are worth a go at 40-1.