Wembley winners all round

Every pre-season tournament feels that their event is that bit special, no-one likes to think that their prestigious event is simply a glorified training session interrupted by masses of substitutions to take away from the little meaning that the games actually carry.

Getting the balance and mix right for your event is no easy task with a multitude of glamour friendlies going on in throughout the football world each hoping that theirs has some sort of competitive edge.

Wembley Cup organisers, IMG, have attempted a few imaginative ploys to put together an eye-catching event and through a series of variables coming their way seem to have come up with a successful event.

Key to that success was Barcelona’s Champions League success over Manchester United in Rome which brought the Catalans to Wembley as the worlds most successful, and watchable team.

Despite the majority of their first team being on extended leave due to international commitments at the end of last season the name of Barca and the lure of the shirt still carries lots of appeal, especially in a city as cosmopolitan as London.

Barca fans of all nationalities were at Wembley which just happens to have hosted their first ever Champions League success when Ronald Koeman’s goal defeated Sampdoria in the 1992 final.

With Wembley hosting the event, Tottenham acting as host club and Celtic’s famous support in attendance the organisers seem to have got the mix just right with Egypt’s Al Ahly providing an exotic alternative although their performance in losing 5-0 to Celtic was far from exciting.

Almost 60,000 fans were in place by the time that Spurs came back from being a goal behind to earn a draw against Barca which seemed a result to keep everyone content.

Barca finished the game with virtually their third team after making eleven half-time changes but there was no mistaking the quality of the squad gathered together by Pepe Guardiola. Of the 22 players used 15 had come through the club’s various academies.

The quality and style of Barca was familiar to that displayed last season as they thwarted the English attempt to make the Champions League an extension of the Premiership.

Nimble, fit enthusiastic players, all entirely comfortable on the ball gave Tottenham a footballing lesson for much of the game with Bojan Krkic opening the scoring in the 32nd minute.

The Tottenham support seemed in awe of the Barcelona jersey, giving their team every encouragement in the manner that a lower division team would cheer their side against a Premiership club in the FA Cup.

Harry Redknapp has one of the most expensively assembled squads in the Premiership with £50,000 a week not far off the average salary of the first team squad.

Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane arrived at Spurs for around £30m in the last year and made little impact on the Barcelona defence throughout the second half when they played together.

Nineteen-year-old Jake Livermore headed an equaliser for Spurs late in the second half but for the London side, who have never competed yet in the Champions League, there was a worrying gulf in terms of ability and technique between themselves and Barcelona.

The draw between the two main attractions sets up Sunday’s games nicely with Celtic, Spurs and Barcelona all capable of winning the tournament with the Glasgow side as slight favourites.

Spreading the event over three days rather than playing back-to-back should give players extra recovery time although all sides are more likely to use their squads to the full rather than risk injury going for glory in a pre-season event.

Beating Spurs to win the trophy would be a nice boost for Celtic but doesn’t begin to register in importance against Wednesday’s Champions League qualifier against Dinamo Moscow.

After watching his side beat Al Ahly 5-0 Celtic manager Tony Mowbray was on a flight to Russia to watch Dinamo in a bid to be as briefed up as possible.

With television income virtually negligible in Scotland, Celtic are desperate to play in the Champions League for the fourth year running to give their finances a £10m boost and offer a worthwhile incentive to signing targets.

There were just two new faces in the Celtic side that beat Al Ahly, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Landry N’Guemo, but the turnaround in the teams performance from last season was marked.

Gordon Strachan’s strict 4-4-2 policy was binned with wide men Shaun Maloney and Aiden McGeady making full use of their licence to come inside to create a more fluid and eye catching style of play.

Sunday’s Wembley Cup matches look to have a bit of everything with the reigning African and European champions kicking the day off before the clash of England-Scotland at the home of football which has housed internationals between the two nations down the years.

Eighty countries will be screening the games which tick most of the boxes that an organiser could wish for in a July event. A near full house is expected at Wembley with four teams gaining valuable fitness and match time to accompany the impressive cheques that they will bank for their involvement.

Joe McHugh writes on Video Celts.

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