‘Possession and the sky is the limit,’ Jim Craig on how Celtic can beat Zenit

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Having overcome – none too convincingly – another team from the top tier of Scottish football in the Scottish Cup, Celtic must now raise their game to a higher level on Thursday, when they face Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League.

I would be surprised if many Celtic fans know a lot about the Russians. However, nowadays there is an easy way to find out; you merely log on to Google on your laptop or computer and you will find out everything you need to know about the club, its position in the table and its results since the start of the season. You can even throw up videos of some of their matches.

In the late 60s and early 70s, we did not have that facility. Someone would go along to see our opponents play and then give us some details of their system. This ‘info’ could be variable, depending on who had been sent. I always wanted to know, for instance, if my opposite number – the left winger – was fast.

Unfortunately, the usual answer to that question was ‘pretty quick’ and I had to settle for that useless response. I thought that I was ‘pretty quick’ myself but I really wanted to know if his ‘pretty quick’ was faster than my ‘pretty quick’?

That might all sound a bit primitive but it is unfortunately true. It might come as a surprise to you fans reading this that when we played top sides for the first time – like Vojvodina Novisad, Dukla Prague, Red Star Belgrade, St Etienne, AC and Inter Milan, Fiorentina and even Feyenoord – we had never seen them in action before, either in the flesh or on a screen. What a difference seeing them play might have made!

Zenit are currently 2nd in the Russian Premier Division so they will be tough opponents and we must be ready for them. That means that firstly, on the night all eleven players must come out ready to take part in the occasion. That might sound obvious but you would be surprised how often it does not happen.

Secondly, we must compete for every ball. If we do that, then we get possession and the sky is the limit.

And thirdly, it would be useful if we could take a lead over to Russia next week. I am always being told that teams win by scoring goals but in my opinion, that is only half the story. Top teams win by scoring goals at one end while keeping the gate shut at the other.

That’s what Celtic must do on Thursday!

I would like to finish off today by sending condolence to the family of Liam Miller who passed away on Friday.  They will be in my thoughts and prayers at this very sad time.

Jim Craig for The Celtic Star

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