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Last Updated: Friday, 11 April, 2003, 22:19 GMT 23:19 UK
Some sympathy with Celtic

By Chick Young
BBC Sport football expert

From the outside looking in it seemed that by the end of last week Celtic had more chips on their shoulders than Harry Ramsden has in his fryers.

As Martin O'Neill blasted Boavista for time wasting, diving and general nonsense, the club's chief executive Ian McLeod was bleating about the SPL decision to play the last Old Firm game of the season on 27 April.

So has Parkhead paranoia reached epidemic proportions?

Actually, the truth is that it's more like a mild temperature.

Celtic have a legitimate gripe about another barmy SPL decision, which decrees that the Rangers v Celtic game should be the first after the infamous split.

Of course those of us who think the top six idea is crazed would point out that had there been no split there would be no problem.

Sure, it is wise not to play what could well be a title decider between the clubs at the season's end, but they could slide it back a week to the first weekend in May and if they did could even play it on Saturday.

Mind you it is only because of the insanity of those who follow the Old Firm that we have to move it away from the last day of the season in the first place.

In any other league on earth they dream of the day that there could be a final day showdown between the championship contenders.

Larsson scores against Boavista
Larsson's goal gives Celtic hope for the second leg
But you have to have sympathy with Celtic's argument that the league should be doing all it can to help our representatives in Europe and that it is totally unfair, if not unrealistic, to expect them to play a title shoot-out 60 hours or so from stepping off a plane returning from a Uefa Cup semi-final.

Their cause is slightly diluted by the "they want it both ways" argument, because they were all smiles at the prospect of the re-arranged game against Motherwell being moved to 7 May, bizarrely after the split and despite the fact that the game features two teams from what are, in essence, different divisions.

But their point is still legitimate.

However I don't feel so sympathetic about their mumps about Boavista.

The Portuguese team played every time wasting trick in the book and rolled over so much it looked like a field full of cows suffering from BSE.

But if Celts want to find the real culprits about their failure to create a lead to take to Porto then they need only look in the mirror.

Boavista are well organised and physical but these are adjectives you would always put in front of Celtic.

And are the Portuguese really better than Blackburn or Celta Vigo or Stuttgart or Liverpool? I don't think so.

Valgaeren diverts the ball into his own goal
Valgaeren's own goal could prove costly
You can't miss penalties and give away cheap goals and expect to cruise into European finals.

The task in Portugal has grown in magnitude because of the mistakes made by Celtic when the ball was in play, not the ticking of the clock when the opposition were going through their Swan Lake routine.

But for all that they have still have a reason to believe that they can deny the citizens of one Portuguese city the remarkable achievement of a European final between their teams, for in the other semi-final Porto have - at 4-1 - done enough to kill off Lazio.

Celtic have achieved much in Europe this season and no matter what happens next, the chests of those of us who take pride in the Scottish game are puffed out just a little more because of their adventures.

But their finest 90 minutes may be yet to come. And if they win in Porto then the spirit would be such that fixture shambles would be forgotten.

They would be ready to take on Rangers 10 minutes after touch down in Glasgow.




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