“England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland all return to international action this week – and all have realistic hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016. The five nations have never qualified for the same major international tournament before but, after a four-month break, they can all enhance their prospects of reaching next summer’s tournament in France with positive results. Why is there such hope? For a start, the finals has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams. But a solid start from all five sides to their qualification groups has also offered encouragement. Could it finally be that Wales and Northern Ireland play in their first European Championship? Can Scotland compete in a first major tournament since 1998? This week’s matches will represent the midway point in qualifying, so just how realistic is the prospect of all five making it through to France?” BBC
“This was a fixture that, from the outset, seemed destined to be overshadowed by events off the field rather than the actual football being played. There was always bound to be a hostile reception for Glasgow-born Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy on their first visit to the city in the green of Ireland – though Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, to his credit, did his best to defuse the situation by calling for a ‘pantomime’ atmosphere. McCarthy’s withdrawal owing to a persistent hamstring injury – the same injury that kept him out of the previous games with Gibraltar and Germany – has defused the situation somewhat, though McGeady is likely to receive a mixed reception at the stadium he elated for years with Celtic. Wednesday night’s bizarre scenes whereupon a known associate of Jack Charlton managed to do himself a mischief, which required hospital treatment, while making some sort of elaborate protest against Roy Keane has added an uncalled-for element of the bizarre.” backpagefootball
Gordon Strachan v Martin O’Neill: More than Celtic connections
“Football followers with a romantic notion could be forgiven for finding themselves overwhelmed by Scotland’s meeting with the Republic of Ireland on Friday. Martin O’Neill, if anyone needs reminding, returns to Celtic Park, a stadium where he was, and still is, worshipped for the success he brought to the club. He will come up against his successor as Celtic manager, Gordon Strachan, who, though not held in quite the same regard by the supporters as O’Neill, nevertheless achieved a great deal in his time in charge.” BBC
“Only those who have to take off their shoes when they want to count to twenty will ever believe Scotland will one day win the World Cup. There is more chance of Ronald Reagan being voted Man of the Year by the Russians than Scotland achieving total global success. This line of thinking, of course, will shock no one. Just over five years ago Ally MacLeod brainwashed the Tartan Army into actually believing the world was about to be conquered in Argentina and Bruce Rioch was only a fortnight or so away from claiming a very expensive and coveted chunk of gold. Let’s not dwell on that nightmarish episode. Scotland’s balloon wasn’t so much punctured as blown to smithereens. There was an eruption of eggs on the faces of the Scottish fans who genuinely believed Scotland would overcome all the obstacles that stood in the way of their heroes. Peru and Iran changed that state of mind.” In Bed With Maradona (Video)
Heart of Midlothian started the 1914-1915 season with a 2-0 victory over Celtic after giving their all.
“They were the sporting stars of yesteryear. Captains, team-mates, local heroes. Many of them went from the playing field to the battlefields of World War One, never to return. Monday marks the 100th anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. It was at 23:00 on 4 August 1914 that Britain entered into one of the costliest conflicts in history, and the fighting continued until 11 November 1918. Here, BBC Sport recalls some notable stories – from whole teams who joined the armed forces to a modern-day international inspired by his ancestors’ wartime deeds.” BBC
Hearts, the team that went to war for Britain
“On 4 August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. Eleven days later a full house at Tynecastle cheered Heart of Midlothian to victory over Celtic, the defending champions beaten by the young pretenders of the Scottish game. War seemed a long way off on that summer’s afternoon; somewhere for a foreign field, not the football field.” Independent
“At Ipurua, the mist rolls down the green hillside, across the roofs and right over the pitch. The town of Eibar has a population of 27,000 people and sits halfway up the valley of the River Ego in the Basque Country, northern Spain. At the top of the town, up steep streets, stands Ipurua, the picturesque home ground of Second Division club Eibar. It is surrounded by mountains to the north and south and the best view may just be the one from the two blocks of flats that tower over the stand. Not that they have to tower much to look over the short, squat side of this stadium.” ESPN
“‘We need the three points; we have to go for this.’ But what does going for it really mean for a smaller nation like Scotland? Should we go for it at all? The benefits and pitfalls of giving up on conservation and adopting an attacking style are hotly debated up and down the country. It can be a highly dangerous approach when you do not have the resources to cope with the other team’s reply. Conversely, it can help solve a great Scottish problem – the need for goals.” Backpage Football
Spartak Moscow fans displaying a Nazi flag during a game at Shinnik Yaroslavl.
“Brazil: violence around games on the rise. Brazil ends 2013 with a record in football violence deaths. It was a miracle that nobody died in the festival of thuggery that took place on 8 December at the Atlético Paranaense v Vasco de Gama match in Joinville, during the last round of the Campeonato Brasileiro, whose shocking images were beamed all around the world. That, however, did not prevent Brazilian football finishing its 2013 season with the saddest of milestones: the 30 deaths in football-related incidents this year is the highest number in the history of the game in the country. What’s more worrying is that fatal cases have been rising steadily in the past few years. …” Guardian
World Cup – and outbreak of supporter violence – link Brazil and Russia
“In six months’ time the World Cup will land in the home of joga bonito clad in a Fifa-approved wrapping of sun, sea and samba. But the dark side of the beautiful game in Brazil was in evidence earlier this month, when images of running battles between fans of Atlético Paranaense and Vasco da Gama shocked the watching world. The game was being held at a neutral ground in Joinville due to previous clashes between fans of the two clubs, but within 10 minutes Globo was broadcasting close-up footage of supporters repeatedly stamping on the heads of their rivals and chasing one another around the stadium bowl. Following a long interregnum, the fighting was eventually broken up by armed security firing rubber bullets into the crowds and an army helicopter landing on the pitch, but not before several fans were seriously injured.” Guardian