While it may not have the same kind of allure and prestige as the Champions League, there’s still a lot to be said for the Europa League and the drama it’s capable of producing – with last night being a prime example of that.
AZ Alkmaar came into the evening off the back of a 2-0 first leg defeat with many believing they wouldn’t be able to turn things around. Instead, though, they pushed their Scottish opponents all the way, falling short with a 2-1 second leg win that left them on the wrong end of a 3-2 aggregate defeat.
AZ push Celtic to the limit
AZ Alkmaar went 1-0 down on the night and subsequently 3-0 down on aggregate, but they still didn’t let that phase them. They continued to push and prod Celtic and for long spells of the game it felt like just a matter of time before they would eventually break their resistance and score again. Alas, the Dutch side wasn’t quite able to get over that finish line, but they did give themselves a whole lot of confidence heading into the Conference League – for whatever that’s worth.
The goal from Zakaria Aboukhlal, off the back of a mistake from Joe Hart, combined with a disastrous own goal from Carl Starfelt, leads us to believe this was all done in the name of some classic Ange Postecoglou drama. The gaffer knows how to make some noise on the pitch and in all seriousness, Celtic fans are probably going to have a heart attack if this is the kind of thing they can come to expect in the months to come.
How far can the Scots go?
Celtic are hardly going to be viewed as favourites to win the Europa League and their best strategy moving forward may not even be a strategy at all – it might just be survival. They need to hang in there in every game they play because given the balance of their team, every fixture is going to be a war. They’ve got a manager who likes to go for it and mix things up and while that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s an approach that has the potential to breed positive results.
AZ served as a less than stellar test when compared to some of the other sides they’ll meet but at the end of the day, you can only beat what’s put in front of you.
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