Why Battles of Britain are best for Celtic

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The Independent Online

A brush with death adds a certain clarity to everything that follows. Celtic would do well to use Stale Solbaaken, their host in Denmark last Wednesday, as a role model as they prepare for the last 16 of the Champions' League.

The FC Copenhagen coach almost died five years ago when he suffered a heart attack while training one morning near the Parken Stadium where his modest team inflicted defeat upon Celtic, just as they had Man-chester United. Solbaaken is making the most of his second chance, and he advises Celtic to do the same. When asked after the 3-1 triumph if the Scottish champions could survive the knockout round, Solbaaken replied: "They can beat anyone in Glasgow - but they will need to score more than one goal at home because they lose too many away."

The statistics of Group F make sober reading for Gordon Strachan. Three goals lost in each of the visits to Old Trafford, Lisbon and Copenhagen. Indeed, Celtic have yet to win on the road in the Champions' League in 12 away games. Will the Celtic manager find 13 is his lucky number when the draw for the next round is made on Friday?

Finishing second means Celtic will be paired with one of the other seven group winners, including Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. There is a growing belief within the Celtic camp that the best way to cure travel sickness would be to take on another Battle of Britain. They eliminated Liverpool on the way to the 2003 Uefa Cup final and edged out Manchester United in the Group F head-to-head.

David Moyes acknowledges that theory might have some credence. The Everton manager was an interested spectator in the Parken Stadium as he watched Celtic, his first club, deliver a pale shadow of the display he saw at Old Trafford.

"Celtic were a different team at Manchester United," insisted Moyes. "There was a lot more at stake that night because it was the first game in the group and because it was a Scottish team against an English team. On Wednesday, Celtic knew they were through and had no edge.

"I don't know why they can't win away in the Champions' League. When you compare it to their home record at Parkhead, where they have only lost one out of 12, it is a mystery. Perhaps they might be suited to another British side.

"I think Celtic are more suited to the two-leg football they enjoyed in the Uefa Cup. However, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea are good sides and I consider each of them capable of winning the Champions' League. It's a great achievement for Celtic to be in the last 16. Rangers did it last season, and yet people keep knocking Scottish football." That view is endorsed by Moyes's former player at Goodison, Thomas Gravesen. The Dane endured a wretched night on his homecoming and he will look to take out that frustration on Dunfermline Athletic today.

"Having a team in the last 16 of the Champions' League reflects well on Scotland," said the man who has played in Germany, Spain and England. "That means the other teams have had to up their game. You have to fight to win every game. Look anywhere else in Europe, you don't see that high intensity Scotland has."

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