BLOG ITALIA
Thursday September 29 2011
Zebras run wild in Glasgow?

Udinese rely on their latest batch of youngsters against Celtic with the precious co-efficient on the line, Scott Fleming reveals.

When Udinese's team bus hurtles up London Road this evening, Francesco Guidolin and co. will be confronted with the sight of not one, not two, but three stadiums.

Construction is almost complete on both The ‘National Indoor Sports Arena' and the ‘Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome', which stand side by side directly across the road from Celtic Park. The 2014 Commonwealth Games will be held in Glasgow, and the city's east end is going through a process of regeneration.

The same could be said of the team that occupies the bus. €50m in, Gokhan Inler, Cristian Zapata and Alexis Sanchez out, €14m out, a United Nations of gifted youngsters in. That was the story of Udinese's summer.

Joint top of Serie A and the width of a post away from beating Milan last week, even in the midst of a rebuilding process the Zebrette should be too strong for Celtic - or at least that's what correspondents such as this one have spent the last month saying. But now we can't be sure.

Antonio Di Natale will watch the game from the comfort of his couch in Udine, his new strike partner Gabriel ‘Romanian Messi' Torje is cup-tied, and back up forwards Antonio Floro Flores and Paulo Vitor Barreto are both injured, leaving Guidolin with the awkward task of forming elegant but inexperienced playmaker Diego Fabbrini and Swiss utility player Almen Abdi into a strike force.

“What a shame we cannot have Udinese represent us in the Champions League; and say to Europe: ‘Look how beautiful Italian football is',” declared the Gazzetta dello Sport last season, but the Italian sports press won't be blowing the Friulani kisses if Guidolin's makeshift XI are defeated tonight. Palermo, Juventus and Sampdoria's shoddy displays in last term's Europa League were the final nail in the coffin of Italy's fourth Champions League qualification berth and this years entrants fielding weakened sides is the last thing that's needed at this stage.

Guidolin is unfazed however, and produced his best Vicky Pollard impression for the Scottish media on Wednesday. “My choices are logical, if anyone doesn't like it then tough. Let me make it clear, there is absolutely no way I am turning my nose up at the Europa League or underestimating Celtic, absolutely not.”

Co-efficient worries are certainly something Celtic can relate to. Trips to Celtic Park were once a chastening experience for Europe's biggest clubs, as Juventus lost there 4-3 in 2001 and Milan failed to win any of the three visits they made between 2004 and 2007, but simply qualifying for tournaments has become a monumental struggle for the Hoops of late and their presence in this year's Europa League is only by virtue of FC Sion's disqualification. The Swiss side fielded five ineligible players in their 3-1 aggregate defeat of Celtic in the play-off round.

Nonetheless Neil Lennon's team are no mugs, and in many respects they are not dissimilar to Udinese, as they also favour progressive, passing football, and they have begun to mimic the Bianconeri's transfer policy. Korean Ki Sung Yueng, Honduran Emilio Izaguirre and Israeli Beram Kayal, who have all been linked with moves to the Premier League, arrived for a total of just £3.9m last year, swoops that even Udinese's legendary scouts would be proud of.

“Splendid landscape, but the weather was terrible,” was Guidolin's assessment of Scotland after he holidayed there this summer. His return has come sooner than he expected and if he isn't careful, Udinese's European exit could come sooner than he bargained for too.

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