Rule Britannia. Three English and Scottish teams have already qualified for the last 16 of the Champ-ions' League, and on Wed-nesday night two more ought to join them, in which case Britain will have more representatives at that advanced stage of the competition than ever before.
Conceivably it could be more than ever again, for if Michel Platini unseats Lennart Johansson in January's Uefa presidential election, he intends to restrict all countries to a maximum of three entrants. But that is an argument for another day.
The debate this Wednesday is whether Arsenal and Manchester United can achieve the draw they each require to join Celtic, Chelsea and Liverpool in the knockout stage. It should hardly be beyond them. Arsenal have the more difficult task away to Porto, especially since they will be without their captain and talisman Thierry Henry, who has managed to collect one unlucky yellow card and two foolish ones in the course of starting four group matches.
Henry (below) admits that, like many other leading players involved in the World Cup, he has been below his best this season. He also concedes that it "wasn't clever" to pick up a third booking in the last game, at home to Hamburg, but insists: "We showed great character to come back and win, which leaves us in a very good position to qualify. I won't be there on the pitch to help my team-mates but I know we can do it. We have the desire and we have the quality. It won't be easy as Porto are a good side, but we have a great spirit here and we can make it through to the next stage."
If Arsenal do not do so, it will be for the first time in four seasons. United boasted an even prouder record until inexplicably failing to score in four of last season's group games, finishing bottom of the section after losing their final match 2-1 to Benfica. The opportunity for revenge arrives at Old Trafford this week, along with the Lisbon side, who are trailing well behind Porto in their domestic championship.
United have already beaten them on their own patch, with Louis Saha's goal, and are unlikely just to play for the point which is all they need. Saha quickly redeemed himself after his aberration from the penalty spot in the previous game against Celtic and Cristiano Ronaldo, as a former Sporting Lisbon player, should also be in the mood.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side would even finish top of Group F if they manage a better result on Wednesday than Celtic do away to Copenhagen. The Danes' defence collapsed in Manchester and Lisbon, but has been more resolute at home, and it could be that Celtic, having already qualified, will be adversely affected by a celebratory demeanour.
The same could apply to Liverpool in Istanbul on Tuesday, the very mention of the Ataturk Stadium bringing on a feeling of light-headedness after the extraordinary triumph in the final against Milan there 18 months ago. Victory at home to PSV Eindhoven a fortnight ago ensured that they will win Group C whatever the outcome against Galatasaray, who are doomed to finish bottom but have their considerable pride to play for.
The oddity about Liverpool's performances in the tournament thus far is that the Turks have been the only side to score against them, recovering from 3-0 down to 3-2 at Anfield on a night that summed up the inconsistency Rafa Benitez is desperate to iron out.
The gap between top and bottom in Group A is equally pronounced, but as Chelsea take on Levski Sofia, who are 10 points behind them, the main interest around Stamford Bridge - and all over Europe - will be in the fate of Barcelona. After taking only one point from their two games against Jose Mourinho's side, the defending champions are in third place, two points behind Werder Bremen, whom they must therefore beat in the Nou Camp to avoid ignominious elimination.Reuse content