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Celtic, Rangers and Hearts’ tasks to stay in Europe

Celtic, Hearts and Rangers all face a difficult task in their next two games to retain European interest this season
Celtic, Hearts and Rangers all face a difficult task in their next two games to task to retain European interest this season

A glance at the European tables containing Celtic, Rangers and Hearts makes for grim reading – but there is a glimmer of hope for all three as they try to secure continental football after Christmas.

It has been a chastening two months for Scotland’s European representatives, with Hearts’ win against RFS of Latvia the only victory from 12 games played.

There is no prospect of Champions League involvement, but what do the trio have to do to get into the Europa League and stay in the Europa Conference League?

Celtic

Celtic host Shakhtar Donetsk on October 25 then travel to reigning European champions Real Madrid the following Wednesday.

Ange Postecoglou’s side have one point – earned in the draw against Shakhtar – and simply have to beat the Ukrainian side at Celtic Park to have any chance of progressing.

That would take them to within a point of third-place Shakhtar and mean a draw in the Bernabeu – bear with us – would take them into the Europa League play-offs if the Ukrainians lost to RB Leipzig.

All sounds disconcertingly unlikely doesn’t it? If you’re still with us, here’s the tiniest morsel of hope: Real may well have qualified as group winners by beating Leipzig in matchday five so could field a relatively weakened side against Celtic.

Real beating Leipzig would also mean the German side could still be caught by Shakhtar, so they will be committed to victory in their final game.

Celtic and Shakhtar would both finish on five points but the Scottish side would progress by virtue of a better head-to-head record thanks to the win in Glasgow.

Table

Rangers

Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side have lost all four matches so far and that opening-game thrashing against Ajax is still haunting them.

As a result of that 4-0 defeat, they almost certainly have to avoid defeat at Napoli, one of Europe’s in-form teams, on October 26 to have a chance.

That’s because while Ajax might lose to Liverpool – and leave Rangers within three points with their meeting in Glasgow to come on November 2 – the Dutch side’s handsome victory at the Amsterdam Arena in September means Van Bronckhorst’s team would have to win 5-0 at Ibrox.

They certainly have to at least match Ajax’s result against Liverpool when they play Napoli. The tiny glimmer? Jurgen Klopp’s side need at least a point to make sure of second – they might even fancy their chances of topping the group.

There are now additional knockout round play-offs – prior to the round of 16 – between the eight Europa League group runners-up and the eight third-ranked teams from the Champions League groups.

The draw for that takes place on November 7 and the Europa League knockout stage begins on 16 February, with the final on 31 May.

Table

Hearts

Hearts complete group A in the Europa Conference League by hosting RFS on 27 October and travel to Turkey to play Istanbul Basaksehir a week later.

They need to win both their games to get to nine points, and hope Fiorentina – who currently sit on seven – only manage one draw against either RFS and Istanbul Basaksehir.

Hearts could finish on the same number of points as the Italian side if they draw both their remaining games but La Viola’s head-to-head record is superior after victories home and away against Robbie Neilson’s men.

The tiny glimmer of hope? Fiorentina have taken only one point from the reverse fixtures.

There is a knockout round of play-offs – prior to the round of 16 – between the eight Europa Conference League group runners-up and the eight third-ranked teams from the Europa League groups.

The draw for the knockout round play-offs is on 7 November and those matches begin on 16 February 2023. The final is on 7 June.

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