Not A Meaningless Game
Updated Thursday, 17th December 2009
Celtic and Rapid Vienna may be at the end of the European road for this season but that does not mean there is nothing to play for.
Despite both sides playing away from home, Rapid Vienna manager Peter Pacult is hoping to send almost 50,000 home fans into 2010 in a good mood with win over Celtic in tonight's Europa League game at the Ernst Happel stadium. The Austrian side's own Gerhard Hanappi stadium only holds around 17,000 so the Austrian club decided to play all their European games at the national stadium. Tonight's game looks to be a sell out around 48,000 supporters expected to attend, including 700 fans from Scotland. The Austrian club have an enviable average attendance in the competition of more than 49,000 supporters. This has been achieved even though they are at the bottom of Group C with four points, one behind Celtic. Neither side are able to make it through to the knockout stages no matter what the result in Vienna or elsewhere.
It is Rapid's last game before the Austrian Bundesliga closes for the winter break and, after staying at the top of the table with a 2-1 win over SV Ried at the weekend, coach Pacult hopes his team can thank the fans for their support. He said: "First of all it is important that we play well in our last game before the winter break. This is a way to say thank you. I want it to be a success for us. However, the way the table finishes is not that important, what is important is to show a great effort and give the fans something to be proud about."
Celtic manager Tony Mowbray and assistant Mark Venus have both suggested that tonight's game could be an opportunity for some of the fringe players to show what they can do. However, Pacult refused to take that as any source of comfort. He said: "First of all I have to say that our defensive midfielder Markus Heikkinen is out and (keeper) Helge Payer got injured in training and is a doubt. But, even if Celtic don't play their strongest XI, they still have a strong squad and we will have to put in a great performance to get a result tomorrow. It was a very even group and any of the four teams could have got through. Celtic lost it in their first two games and we lost it in the third and fourth games. In this group it was possible to have one bad game but not two. But it was a big sporting challenge and we looked forward to every game we had. Unfortunately, it is the last game but it is still a challenge for us."
Meanwhile, Mowbray has denied he could have done without tonight's meaningless game. The club will get a payout based on the number of points achieved in the league so there is still something to play for. He said: "We have to respect the tournament we are playing in. We are here to give a good account of ourselves, to try and win the game. I have picked the team in my mind. I know what the starting team will be unless there is an injury in training. And, if we do decide to go down that route (resting players), we expect a professional performance from the team. We are here to win the football match, to be positive and we are looking forward to it. There will be a decent crowd at the stadium, I hear, with a great atmosphere, and it will be a test for the players, but one we are looking forward to."