The 400th edition of one of the world’s most famous and most intense rivalries has been a long time coming. Once a derby that was played out several times a season, Sunday’s Scottish League Cup semifinal between “Old Firm” duo Celtic and Rangers at Hampden Park will be the Glasgow foes’ first encounter in almost three years. In the intervening time, it’s fair to say much has happened on the blue half of Glasgow.
Just a couple of months after Celtic beat Rangers 3-0 in April 2012, Rangers were liquidated and forced to start from scratch at the bottom of the Scottish league pyramid. They have since climbed back up two divisions and are in contention to earn a return to the Premiership for next season. But a club that reached the UEFA Cup final as recently as 2008 remains in a state of disarray. Uncertainty exists about the future of the club’s ownership, while manager and club legend Ally McCoist resigned his post last month. On Sunday, the team will be led by caretaker boss Kenny McDowall, despite the former Celtic reserve-team coach having also handed in his notice recently. Scotland’s two most dominant clubs are still some way apart.
“I don't think there's ever been such a gap as there is at this moment, so that's what makes it a difficult game and that's why the bookies are making them favorites,” McDowall said, according to BBC Sport. “But, as we all know, it's the Cup and cup football can bring surprises and, come Sunday, I hope it is Rangers who go through to the final.”
Across the city, Celtic have dominated in Rangers’ absence, and have won three straight Scottish championships. Yet there is an argument that, while their fans were only too happy to gloat at their rival’s struggles and passionately insist that the team they’ll face on Sunday is an entirely new club, they have also felt the negative effects of Rangers’ turmoil. The first British club to win the European Cup in 1967 spectacularly and disastrously failed to even make the group stage of the Champions League this season. Under new coach Ronny Deila, their performances in a Scottish Premiership that they have previously dominated have been less than spectacular this season, too.
Still, they have picked up form of late, winning four straight matches to begin 2015, to go three points clear with a game in hand of Aberdeen at the top of the Premiership. On the face of it Celtic should be far too strong for Rangers. So confident is Celtic’s John Guidetti of getting the victory at Hampden Park that the striker on loan from Manchester City has said that he fancies his chances of scoring a hat-trick. However, one of the Celtic players to have played in the last encounter between the rivals, Scott Brown, admits that he has missed the atmosphere of the matches.
“Do we miss Rangers? Yes, on occasions like this,” he said, reports the BBC. “It is good to have the hype of the game and the fans having the banter between one another. It is going to be a terrific occasion and everyone's counting down the days now. It will be exciting.
“Every Celtic-Rangers game, everyone relishes, especially on the big occasions going out in front of 50,000 at Hampden. The atmosphere as soon as you walk out on to that pitch, hairs stand up on the back of your neck.”
Prediction: After such a long time since their last meeting and with Rangers likely to be fired up by some of the comments emanating from the Celtic side in the buildup, expect an intense atmosphere on and off the pitch. The occasion could mean Celtic play down to Rangers’ level and it has the potential to be a closer encounter that the relative strengths of the clubs’ squads would suggest. It would be a huge shock, though, were Celtic not too ultimately prevail.
Prediction: Celtic 2-1 Rangers
Kickoff time: 8:30 a.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1