Every week, every game, counts at this stage of the season, when players are fighting for full fitness. Hibs’ remarkable comeback last night after going 0-2 down to Asteras Tripolis will have their Greek opponents wondering if three preseason friendlies was sufficient preparation for a game of that importance. Hibs have played five games in total.
AEK Athens, who lie in wait for Celtic or Rosenborg, have also played three games since losing the Greek Cup Final on 12 May. They play a fourth on Tuesday against Galatasaray, their final match before the Champions League third qualification round.
By contrast, Celtic have played five friendlies and are in their second qualification round. If they overcome Rosenborg, they will face AEK having played 10 games, including the league opener against Livingston. The difference between four and 10 games is significant. Four games is nowhere near enough to get a squad ready to perform at their best.
I know no one at Celtic Park or Lennoxtown likes having to come through four qualification rounds. It provides unnecessary hazard and denies the club access to lucrative friendly competitions, but there is nothing like a competitive focus to get players in shape.