Celtic 2-1 Ajax: Hoops Keep Champions League Hopes Alive After Battling to Victory

Celtic 2-1 AjaxCeltic entered their third European match of the season needing three points to keep their Champions League hopes alive after losing to AC Milan and Barcelona in their first two games. Ajax weren’t in much of a better position having only taken a solitary point from meetings with Barcelona and Milan.

The match began with Ajax passing the ball around but not doing an awful lot with it for the first 10 minutes or so. The first real chance of the game came to Celtic when, on the 13th minute, Mikel Lustig drilled a low cross into the front post for the perfectly timed run of Teemu Pukki, who couldn’t get the necessary contact on the fast-paced ball to divert it towards the goal. That signaled the start of a much more open game, and just a minute later, Sigthórsson found himself space on the right wing after Izaguirre wandered out of position into the center of the pitch, but his cross could only find the grateful arms of Fraser Forster.

In the first 25 minutes, Ajax did not make their majority possession pay, but soon after, an out-swinging free kick from the right wing was flicked on by an Ajax head to be turned away at the back post by Lustig. If the Swede had faltered, it almost certainly would have ended in a goal. A few minutes, later a free kick taken from the same side fell to Poulsen, who drifted away from Mulgrew at the back post but could do no more than rattle the crossbar.

This led to a period of sustained pressure from the Dutch side, but they failed to create anything from it. The 33rd minute saw arguably the most important tackle from a Celtic player all night. After a Mulgrew free kick was cleared, Ajax raced away on the counter, Kayal kept up and, as the last line of defence, made a sliding tackle and the danger was cleared. If he’d mistimed it, the referee would have had an easy decision to make in sending the Israeli off.

There were a couple of half chances for Celtic over the following 10 minutes but nothing of real note. A minute before half time, a Stokes corner came to Samaras’ feet, who played the ball back to Stokes. The Irishman took a clever touch past Denswil who, fouled Stokes inside the penalty area, and the referee gave a penalty.

Celtic 2-1 AjaxDebate ensued between players of both sides and the referee over the placing of the ball on the spot, with Poulsen and Veltmen booked for Ajax and van Dijk shown a card for Celtic. With normal penalty taker Kris Commons in the stands after sustaining an injury against Hibs, 22 year-old James Forrest stepped up and dispatched the spot kick expertly past Cillessen’s fingertips.

The second half started without much action other than a clearly confident James Forrest terrorizing the Ajax defense. On the 53rd minutes, Serero played a clever one-two with Sigthórsson just outside the box and came one-on-one with Forster. The goalkeeper did brilliantly to keep the ball out but there’s no doubt that Serero should have done better, leading to a Celtic counter-attack and a blocked Samaras shot that fell to Beram Kayal 25 yards out. The midfielder side-footed the ball towards the goal, what looked like an easy save for Cillessen was deflected off of Denswil’s right boot and into the left-hand corner of the net.

Over the next half hour, Ajax found Celtic’s line to be impenetrable and had to resort to long-range efforts. Two minutes before the final whistle, Celtic substitute Nir Biton slid in high on Serero and the referee didn’t hesitate in showing the 21 year-old a red card. It was a dangerous, needless tackle, and a sending off was probably the right call.

From then on, Ajax piled on the pressure and in the fourth minute of added time got their reward as a long-range shot from Lasse Schöne sailed into the top corner. It proved to only be a consolation, and as soon as Celtic took the kick-off the referee blew for full time. A stretched Celtic squad were rewarded for a fine display with a deserved three points.

Written by Sean Currie

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MLS Considering Switch to European Schedule as Early as 2014

USA vs Costa RicaBig changes look to be on the horizon for Major League Soccer, with the fastest growing league in America rumored to be contemplating a switch to a European-style schedule as early as 2014. The season would run from August to May and likely include a 6-8 week winter break to account for the harsh weather in cities such as Toronto, New England, and elsewhere in the Northern region.

While the FIFA community is certainly pushing MLS Commissioner Don Garber to make the transition, would it really be a good thing for the sport in America? Currently, MLS is competing for attention with baseball and basketball, two sports that are big but lack the same emphasis as MLS matches because they play nearly every day. With the new schedule, American soccer would be going against the NFL, College Football, and the MLB postseason.

Unfortunately, soccer probably wouldn’t stand a chance, not in attendance, not in television, and certainly not in popularity. The MLS would have an intermission spanning 6-8 weeks, but seasonal cycles usually last longer than that, and there’s certainly no guarantee that crowds would come out to watch a match in blizzard conditions. While the NFL has turned snowy match-ups into football classics, MLS simply doesn’t have that kind of prestige at this point in the league’s young life.

Think about all those games the New England Patriots played in the snow and how it captivated the attention of the entire nation. Could you say the same thing would happen if the New England Revolution took on a team like the San Jose Earthquakes? The answer is no, and that’s not a knock on MLS, it’s a fact. There just aren’t enough MLS supporters in this country to make that happen, not right now at least. Significant figures in the MLS world have been quick to refute the timing of the switch, with MLS spokesperson Dan Courtemanche writing via email:

“We will announce the plans for the 2014 season before the MLS Cup. The timing of the 2014 schedule will be very similar to the current season.”

USA vs Costa RicaIt would make no sense for MLS to shake up their schedule to such a degree so soon and risk stunting its prolific growth, especially not in a World Cup year. Looking further down the road, MLS could seek to make the change in the 2015 season. They could either implement a shorter season or look to extend it into a 16 month journey to the cup, with the first idea looking to be the more viable option.

If the MLS really want to complete this drastic switch, by expanding into warmer regions such as Florida, this schedule change would be extremely counterproductive. Sending a hypothetical southern team such as Orlando City into Toronto in early February could potentially be disastrous, as these players would not be used to playing in freezing temperatures and potential blizzard-like conditions.

With all the debate surrounding the possibility of the MLS changing its schedule, let’s remember that soccer has a giant advantage over the other American sports it will attempt to overtake in popularity within the next few years. Soccer is truly a worldwide sport; there is not a single crevice on this planet that hasn’t heard, watched, or played soccer. Football is mainly an American-only sport, baseball is trumped by cricket in many parts of the globe, and while basketball is widely popular, it has so far failed to tap into both the Asian and Indian markets. With the world experiencing revolutionary changes in communication through social media, the hope that larger international love for soccer will soon spill over into America has never been greater.

Although we won’t truly know the pros and cons of the MLS changing its schedule until it actually happens, soccer fans across the globe should cross their fingers that the league makes the right decision for the growth of the sport. Potential for a fiery fan base in the United States is enormous, and for it to be fully exposed would be great not only for the US but for the entire world of soccer.

Written by Daniel Fortenko

European Youth Tournament NextGen Series Suspended Due to Lack of Funding

NextGen SeriesThe NextGen Series, a popular youth European football tournament, will be suspended for at least a year due to a lack of funds. The exciting and competitive competition has been very interesting to watch for many fans, and most importantly, it has been very good in terms of youth development. Teams from across Europe that take part in the competition are drawn in a Champions League-style group stage, before going on to the knockout rounds and only one team carrying home the trophy in the final.

In domestic leagues across Europe, many youngsters gain experience at the youth level by playing competitive fixtures against opponents from their own country. One of the many good things about the NextGen series was the opportunities for the players to compete against a high standards of opposition, and experience playing in different countries and stadiums. Some players at the U16 to U23 levels have the opportunity to represent their countries, and of course that gives them an insight into unfamiliar surroundings, but not at the club level. The news about the NextGen Series’ one-year suspension was announced in this statement:

“It is with regret that the NextGen Series has today announced it will be suspending the tournament for one season due to a lack of definite funding.”

“Over the past two seasons NextGen has played a major part in the development of European football and has enjoyed great success with many NextGen players including Celtic’s Tony Watt, Villa’s Gary Gardner and Ajax’s Viktor Fischer progressing to their first teams.”

Many players have spoken about their disappointment at the tournament being suspended in addition to multiple managers. Aston Villa head of youth development Bryan Jones expressed his disappointment upon hearing the news, saying ”We’re bitterly disappointed by this and we feel let down.” Jones went on to say that the NextGen Series organizers work really hard in their attempts to secure a sponser for the tournament, but failed to do so before the deadline, resulting in the one-year suspension.

NextGen SeriesThis raises the question of how in today’s football financial climate can this been allowed to happen? It may be that sponsors have not been forthcoming, but why have the club’s not come and made sure this did not happen? After all, with the size of clubs that have been competing these last few years, helping develop their own youth is surely worth what would be a relatively small cost to them.

The first year of the competition, which was held in the 2011/12 season, had only 16 clubs, and they were selected upon the standard of academies and by invite only. The winner’s in the first season were Inter Milan, who beat Ajax on penalties. The 24 teams that competed in last year’s competition were Ajax, Anderlecht, Arsenal, Athletic Bilbao, Borussia Dortmund, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Juventus, CSKA Moscow, PSG, Olimpiacos, Barcelona, Celtic, Fenerbache, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Manchester City, Marseille, Molde, PSV Eindhoven, Rosenborg, Sporting Lisbon, Tottenham Hotspur, and Wolfsburg.

Last season saw English clubs progress right into the latter stages of the competition, which was hosted in Italy, with Aston Villa, Arsenal, and Chelsea all reaching the semifinals. Aston Villa later went on to win the tournament, beating Chelsea in the final with the final score of 2-0. UEFA have reportedly looked into designing their own youth competition, and maybe there is a feeling from some clubs that UEFA would implement a better competition. The suggested name for this league is the “Youth League,” but suggestions and rumors point to the fact that the teams participating in this league would have to qualify for the Champions League at the senior level.

There is no doubt that the majority of NextGen teams have benefited from the competition, as many of them have promoted young talents that have done well in the tournament. In this previous pre-season, Aston Villa had several of their NextGen squad - Janoi Donacien, Graham Burke, Samir Carruthers, Jack Grealish, Callum Robinson and Josh Webb - on first team duty, whilst Gary Gardner and Daniel Johnson have already featured on several occasions in the first team squad.

Victor Fischer of Ajax, Nathan Ake of Chelsea, and Tony Watt of Celtic have also made a name for themselves at first team level, and it is likely this season will see more former NextGen players play first team football all across Europe. As much as it is a crying shame the tournament has been suspended for a year, the most important thing is that the great invention of the NextGen Series will be back next season, and in style.

Written by Ben Armitage

How Could Manchester United Win the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League?

Manchester UnitedSince they were formed in 1878 as Newton Heath LYR, Manchester United have won 3 European Cups, or as it is called in the modern-day game, Champions League titles. 2 such titles were won under the reign of none other than Sir Alex Ferguson: the treble winning season of 1999 and the double winning season of 2008 (see highlights below). And with Ferguson looking to win another in order to beat Bill Paisley’s record of 3 Champions League at one club, I look into the stats, the facts, and the opinions of others to see what the Reds need to do to win the trophy of dreams.


As the start of the season was approaching, United did not have a first choice keeper. Now though, David De Gea has firmly cemented his place as Manchester United’s first choice goalkeeper. He has been putting in some commanding display’s recently and looks to be the real deal. With second choice Anders Lindegaard a great backup option, United have no work to do in the goalkeeping department. Ben Amos is also another backup option for the future; he is developing well at the club and should be a top quality keeper in years to come.


Manchester United don’t lack strength in-depth in their current side. Defense is an area where they have plenty of promising young stars for the future, such as players that will one day have a chance of captaining their country, like Phil Jones. However, are those players good enough and experienced enough to challenge for Europe’s biggest trophy, the UEFA Champions League? And can the experienced Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, or Patrice Evra play every game in the League and in Europe? No, but how to solve it?

Manchester UnitedJonny Evans has had an excellent season and has progressed well since the start of 2012. Now Ferguson’s first choice center back and nearing his prime, he can play in almost every match and produce top quality performances. To win next years European Cup, United and Ferguson will need someone else in the center back position though. This brings me to the point of rotation; with Vidic and Ferdinand ever aging and not able to play game in, game out, the two will have to take turns with each other, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to partner Jonny Evans. Of course the Irishman cannot play every game and will need some rest, therefore, occasionally, Vidic and Ferdinand could play, or Jones and Smalling.

In left back position, the Reds have the experienced Patrice Evra. He still tears up defenses and makes important tackles, but he is getting older and will need more rest next season. Leighton Baines has been a target of the Reds for a few years now, and in my opinion, is the best full back in the league. Second choice left back Alexander Buttner is a good prospect but defensively has not shown enough quality to play regularly. Fabio Da Silva is returning from loan at QPR and is a great full left back, much like his twin, Rafael. What to do? It’s Ferguson’s choice, he can either buy Leighton Baines and have left back covered and extremely strong and challenge for the Champions league. Or the champions-elect could not purchase a solid new left-back and challenge for the Premier League and fail in Europe.


Manchester United aren’t short of quality in midfield. With Michael Carrick recently being nominated for PFA Player of the Year, they have one of the best and most consistent midfielders in the world. Tom Cleverley has been ever improving recently and has been putting in some impressive displays. They have young players coming through the ranks such as Ryan Tunnicliffe, Nick Powell, Davide Petrucci, and Jesse Lingard.

Manchester UnitedAgain, the problem is whether the current midfield can they challenge the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, or Real Madrid? And again, the answer is no. This time, what to do? There is no possible way of getting around the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side need a dominating midfielder. Someone like Danielle De Rossi, Yohan Cabaye, or Kevin Strootman. Those were the responses on Twitter when I asked “If you could have one new midfielder at United, who would it be? (Realistically).”

Out of those three options, 1 name stands out. Kevin Strootman. He is extremely young and powerful, much like treble-winning Manchester United legend Roy Keane. United fans drool over the prospect of signing such a player. He is also the most realistic signing for the Reds. Ferguson is a known admirer of him and Strootman will be looking to get some higher quality football than he gets at his current club (PSV Eindhoven).

Danielle De Rossi has always been a target for United but he is a loyal player who looks set to stay at Roma until he retires. Yohan Cabaye is a classy footballer but is not the quality of a more physical player like Strootman. All of this leads to Strootman being the perfect player for the Reds, the player to lead them to European glory once again. It’s only a question of whether there is enough money at Old Trafford.


Manchester UnitedWith the likes of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, wihout a doubt, Manchester United have the strongest attack in the league, and possibly the world. With players like Will Keane, Joshua King, and more ready to join up with them, Ferguson doesn’t need to worry about his strikers, despite rumors he was in for Radamel Falcao. There are still rumors linking United with Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski; although it would mean one of United’s strikers leaving the Theater Of Dreams, it would be an excellent buy for the Reds. He scores repeatedly, with an average rate of almost 1 a game. Should he come to Manchester, he would link up with old teammate Shinji Kagawa to form a formidable partnership.

Assisting Manchester United’s forwards will be the wingers. The new addition of Wilfried Zaha (bought in January, now on loan at Crystal Palace) will be a big bonus. The Premier League leaders’ wingers have struggled this season. Antonio Valencia has had a torrid season, Ashley Young has had plenty of injuries keeping him on the side-lines, and Luis Nani’s morale has been low after his controversial sending off in their Champions League Round of 16 match-up against Real Madrid. Danny Welbeck has adapted to a new role on the left flank, and we could see Zaha and Welbeck on the wings in future. Even though it looks as if United have many a winger, they may need to purchase another to strengthen their squad and show their quality, someone like James Rodriguez.

If all these things happen, it looks good for Manchester United. They could reach the promise land again, and win the UEFA Champions League.

Written by Harry Robinson