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Page last updated at 20:19 GMT, Sunday, 26 April 2009 21:19 UK

Euro debate follows Bairns' win

By Clive Lindsay

John Hughes urges his players on at Hampden
Falkirk manager John Hughes was under pressure before the semi-final

Falkirk claimed the local bragging rights once more against Dunfermline, but it is on the European stage where their win will have greater significance.

With Champions League-bound Rangers already lying in wait, goals from Tam Scobbie and Scott Arfield were enough to ensure the Bairns' place in European football even if they end up runners-up in the Scottish Cup final.

Given Falkirk's perilous position at the foot of the Scottish Premier League, chances are still high that the country will again be represented by a First Division side.

And their workmanlike performance at Hampden on Sunday suggests that they will do well not to follow Queen of the South, Dunfermline and Gretna, who have recently benefited in similar circumstances, in taking an early exit.

Falkirk's 2-0 win, coupled with Rangers' progress to the final thanks to a 3-0 win over St Mirren on Saturday, will reignite the debate about whether the cup runners-up should be given precedence over those finishing higher in the league table.

League status should count for Europe, although maybe, if we win the cup, we should qualify

Falkirk defender Jackie McNamara

Don't expect the Bairns fans among the disappointing crowd of 17,000 to agree that the fairytale should have been diminished by the withdrawal of that carrot - or worry how it might affect the position of Scottish clubs in the rankings co-efficient.

But their own veteran defender, the former Celtic, Dunfermline and Wolves player Jackie McNamara, is a dissenting voice.

"Personally, I think it's wrong that we go there," he said of qualification for the inaugural Europa League, which next season takes over from the Uefa Cup as the rung below the Champions League.

"League status should count for Europe, although maybe, if we win the cup, we should qualify.

"But, on behalf of Falkirk, we look forward to that next season - and hopefully we will still be in the SPL."

Progress to their first final since losing 1-0 to Kilmarnock in 1997 could yet save manager John Hughes' job, even if the league battle is lost.

Falkirk are currently four points adrift of Inverness at the foot of the table with five games remaining.

Before last weekend's 0-0 draw with Hearts, fans from the Bairns Trust wrote a letter to the club urging the sacking of the manager.

Those demands have already been rejected, and it's hard to imagine the board changing tack and dismissing a man who will lead his team out for a showpiece final at the national stadium and has the club's first European campaign to look forward to.

Nordsjaelland celebrate defeating Queen of the South
Queen of the South lost to Nordsjaelland in this season's Uefa Cup

Despite their league struggles, Falkirk had gone into Sunday's match as clear favourites thanks to a poor season for Dunfermline.

Jim McIntyre's side have slipped close to the relegation zone after starting among the promotion favourites in Division One.

The Pars, who have a proud cup history, a record of winning semi-finals and had accounted for SPL outfit Aberdeen in the previous round, matched Hughes' side in terms of endeavour and possession.

But it was Falkirk whose greater goal threat deservedly won the day, stretching their unbeaten run against the Fifers to seven games - they haven't conceded a goal in the last six.

The Bairns fans were the ones celebrating at the final whistle of a game during which the obvious passion of the two sets of fans was largely lost among the large sections of empty seats in a Hampden that was barely a third full.

You could imagine a smaller venue like Tynecastle being rocked by a rivalry intensified by geography and years of together vying for promotion and avoiding the drop.

Instead - apparently both clubs preferred not to deny their players an opportunity to play at the national stadium - we had a B-movie that struggled to raise itself above the atmosphere of a B-international.



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see also
Hughes applauds effort from fans
26 Apr 09 |  Falkirk
Bairns deserved win says McIntyre
26 Apr 09 |  Dunfermline
Falkirk 2-0 Dunfermline
26 Apr 09 |  Scottish Cups
Scottish Cup as it happened
26 Apr 09 |  Scottish Cups
Scottish Cup photo gallery
26 Apr 09 |  Scottish Premier
Weir's way for Rangers
25 Apr 09 |  Scottish Cups
Rangers 3-0 St Mirren
25 Apr 09 |  Scottish Cups


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