Scottish Premier League News September 2011: Celtic handed a European reprieve
Celtic were handed a European reprieve after being reinstated in the Europa League after their play-off conquerors Sion were punished for fielding ineligible players against the Parkhead side.
Providing Sion do not succeed with a counter appeal, Neil Lennon's men will take the Swiss side's place in Group I, which includes Atletico Madrid, Udinese - knocked out of the Champions League by Arsenal - and Rennes. Celtic said in a statement that they were "pleased by this decision", and thanked the SFA for its support.
Sion signed five players with the club still under a transfer ban imposed by FIFA after breaching rules over the signing of Egypt goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary three years ago, although a Swiss court had ruled in their favour.
One of those players, Pascal Feindouno, scored two goals in the 3-1 second leg win over Celtic in Switzerland. Sion have two rights of appeal, the second with the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Swiss club have threatened to take the case to a civil court.
Sion defeated Celtic over two legs in a play-off but have been forced to forfeit the tie. Uefa's judgment and Celtic's protest relates to the fielding of five ineligible players by Sion against the Scottish club. As a consequence, Celtic have been handed two 3-0 wins for the play-off games.
A Uefa spokesperson said: "The Uefa control and disciplinary body dealt with the two protests lodged by Celtic FC against the validity of their Uefa Europa League play-off ties played against FC Sion on 18 and 25 August. The Scottish club questioned the eligibility of a number of the Sion players who participated in these matches, with the Swiss side winning 3-1 on aggregate.
"The control and disciplinary body accepted both protests and decided to award both ties to Celtic by forfeit (3-0). As a consequence, Celtic are qualified for the Uefa Europa League group stage.
"An appeal can be lodged against these decisions within three days of receipt of the written grounds for the decisions."
Celtic manager Lennon was delighted with the outcome.
“We feel it's the right decision,” he said. “If you flout the laws of the game you should be punished. It is not the ideal way to go through but at least we are there now.
“It is a tough group, almost a Champions League quality group, but it is a great chance for the players to show how far they have come in the last year.”
Sion, however, have pledged to fight the expulsion and there is the possibility of the case being taken to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which could potentially put the scheduling of the Europa League in doubt.
Michel Platini, Uefa's president, appeared to render the expulsion as a formality in the immediate aftermath of the second leg. At that point, Platini said: "There are rules that have not been respected. FC Sion has not respected the rules of the transfer ban, they signed players and then played those players."
Celtic's reprieve has potentially wider ramifications for Scottish football and its tumbling European coefficient. Before the judgment, the country was facing the prospect of having none of its club sides involved in Europe beyond August for the first time.
Rangers manager Ally McCoist claims he does not feel under any extra pressure after Rangers crashed out of the Europa League to Maribor to ensure there will be no European football at Ibrox this season.
The Scottish champions could only muster a 1-1 draw on the night, allowing the Slovenians to progress to the group stages with a 3-2 aggregate victory.
Rangers had already exited Champions League qualifying at the hands of Malmo but McCoist insists he is not feeling the strain following another disappointing night, saying: "I don't feel any more pressure. I just feel disappointment - disappointment for the fans and for the players. I certainly don't feel pressure.
"My over-riding feeling is one of bitter disappointment. We felt we created enough chances to win a couple of games but, if you don't take those chances, there is always a chance that it will come back to bite you.
“What matters now is how we react to it - and we will be fine. It's a sore one but we will take it on the chin and get on with it."
And McCoist has insisted that Rangers' decision to spurn interest in Nikica Jelavic and Steven Davis is a clear signal of the club's intent this season.
The club rejected a £6.5million bid for Jelavic from Leicester and claim there was also interest in Davis from Aston Villa. And boss McCoist - who recruited seven new players over the summer - believes his squad is in good shape to successfully defend their Clydesdale Bank Premier League title.
"I am delighted that Nikica and Steven are both staying,” he said. “There was no pressure to sell either player but the club received a serious offer for Nikica from Leicester. The fact it was rejected sends out a clear message to all Rangers fans and I have no doubt the players we have are more than capable of defending the SPL title.
"It has been a long transfer window with lots of speculation but we have added seven new players while the core of our double-winning side last season have been re-signed so I am more than happy with the squad we have.
"Hopefully all the boys can return from international duty unscathed and the break will also give our injured players the chance to recover before our game against Dundee United next weekend."
Rangers owner Craig Whyte added: "We had a serious offer for Nikica Jelavic but it fell well short of the player's true valuation.
"Ally McCoist is building a good squad capable of competing for the domestic treble and Jelavic and Steven Davis are key players for the team."
Rangers signed Lee Wallace, Dorin Goian, Carlos Bocanegra, Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Bartley, Juan Manuel Ortiz and Matt McKay this summer, while securing Allan McGregor, Davis, Steven Whittaker and Gregg Wylde on new deals.
Whyte added: "Ally has signed seven new players and re-signed seven more this summer, which has been a significant investment in the squad.
"While all Rangers fans want to see as many star signings as possible there has to be realism as well. As always at Rangers, we are committed to working together to ensure a successful domestic campaign this season."
Meanwhile, Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell poked fun at speculation that an unnamed club had made a £9 million bid for Rangers striker Nikica Jelavic before the transfer window closed at the end of August.
The Ibrox club rejected a confirmed £6.5 million bid from Leicester City for the Croatian but there was fevered speculation of a bigger bid from an unnamed club, through an agent, which was similarly rebuffed.
However, Lawwell got a laugh at a press conference in Glasgow when he said, tongue-in-cheek: "Well, we got a £29 million offer for (Gary] Hooper. From an unknown agent, from an unknown club, from another universe."
Although results might indicate otherwise, Scotland manager Craig Levein has insisted that he believes Scotland are improving.
The national side face an uphill struggle to qualify for the 2012 European Championships after controversially drawing with nearest rivals the Czech Republic at Hampden.
The game had been billed as a do-or-die clash with the Scots five points behind the second-placed Czechs. Three points looked to be on the cards before the visitors were awarded a ludicrous last-gasp penalty to even the scores. To add insult to injury, Scotland were then denied a penalty at the other end when Christophe Berra was sent tumbling.
The draw also left Levein with just one victory from his first five qualifiers and in need of urgent evidence to support his oft- repeated contention that Scotland have improved markedly over the past year.
He remains unshakeable in his belief that this is the case. "It's a must win game again if we want to qualify for this tournament," he said. "Not winning the game against the Czechs makes it (qualification] much more difficult. But that doesn't mean we are not progressing.
"That's the point I am trying to make. I know where we are going, the players know where we are going. Of course you guys and everyone else will base it on each individual result as we go along. But I am confident that the route we are going has improved the international team."
Levein was asked whether he thought the Group I table, which shows his side sitting on only five points from five opening fixtures, did not offer an accurate account of the way Scotland have played in the campaign.
"We drew in Lithuania, I think that was a reasonable result," he said. "We beat Liechtenstein, then we lost 1-0 to a set-piece in the Czech Republic. We then lose 3-2 to Spain and we draw 2-2 at home to the Czech Republic, in circumstances that we all know about. I look at all those games, and I look at them individually, and I see a progression. You guys, or other people, might question that. But, for me, the most important thing is that I know where we are going, and the players know where we are going. That is all that matters."