Back in 2008, the Pope’s O’Rangers got to the final of Big Vase with a team spearheaded by Jean-Claude Darcheville. The centre of their defence was marshalled by David Weir, 83. To his right, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Kirk Broadfoot, breathing heavily, brow furrowed, a confused look spreading across his coupon. The late and lamented Walter Smith achieved many great things during a life less ordinary, but taking that team to a major Uefa showpiece occasion was arguably his most outrageous achievement of all. Sheer alchemy, multiplied by chutzpah on the end of a stick. Gotta love Walter.
Nothing is impossible, in other words, and that’s surely what the Newc O’ Rangers manager, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, will be telling his men before Thursday’s trip to Borussia Dortmund in the catchily titled knockout round play-offs of this year’s even-more-interminable-than-usual Big Vase. Marco Rose’s side are currently keeping Bayern Munich honest in the Bundesliga, six points behind and not quite out of hope yet, and are the bookies’ favourites to win Big Vase outright, ahead of Barcelona and some properly run clubs like Sevilla, Fizzy Leipzig and Atalanta. By comparison, you can get 150s on James Tavernier lifting Uefa’s secondary jug come May. Oh O’Rangers! Uh-oh!
However, Dortmund’s superstar striker Erling Haaland – 28 goals already for club and country this season, but absent for nearly a month – could be missing through injury this evening. Also, it’s not as though the German giants are without their own problems, having been shafted at home 5-2 by perennial losers Bayer Leverkusen a couple of weeks ago, a result nearly as embarrassing as Rangers’ recent dirty protest at Parkhead. Van Bronckhorst’s men have responded well to that humiliation, winning three games on the bounce to the aggregate score of 10-0.
Add some positive thinking to the mix, along the lines of “well, if Kirk did it”, and you never know, they could yet pull off a result for the ages. Either that or we’ll have further evidence that, by unceremoniously bolting out of the Ibrox exit door, Steven Gerrard has made his best-timed run since the one that put Liverpool two up in the 2001 final.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
It’s another big night of football: join Scott Murray for Big Vase action including Dortmund 2-0 O’Rangers and Barcelona 1-1 Napoli (5.45pm, all times GMT), before Big Pot coverage of Queen’s Celtic 2-2 Bodø/Glimt and Leicester 1-0 Randers (8pm) with Barry Glendenning. You can also follow England 2-1 Canada in the Arnold Clark Cup with Sarah Rendell from 7.30pm.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“[Christian] has found a place where he feels confident to take the next step in the fight to get back on to the field. I’m super-happy that he is safe and happy and looking forward to playing football, and that we can all see him play again” – the Denmark coach, Kasper Hjulmand, on Christian Eriksen finding the right club in Brentford. Read his Q&A with Bart Vliestra here.
Football Weekly Extra is here! Join the podders to dissect the latest Big Cup results, including Liverpool’s Italian job and a “mini-crisis” at Bayern Munich, who have now gone TWO games without a win.
“Re: 63-year-old Ralf Rangnick [Fivers passim]. Rangnick, 63, is eligible for his German pension if he has made contributions for 45 years. If not he must wait until a month before his 66th birthday. But at the end of the season he can apply for welfare assistance by job hunting or attending classes. The German government does not currently offer classes in football management” – Lindsay Williams.
“I spent two hours of my birthday yesterday watching Peterborough 0-0 Reading. Hardly a celebration” – JJ Zucal [er, happy birthday? – Fiver Ed].
“This reader beef is like wandering into a pub car park to find two guys whose mums cut their hair, pretending to be held back by a third guy with an actual pocket protector, who is shouting ‘Ian, Brian, leave it!’ Long may it continue” – Jon Millard.
“Re: the ongoing reader beef. Leave ‘im, Ian! He ain’t worth it! Let’s all just go back inside and finish our drinks” – Matt Dony.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Lindsay Williams.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
The Barrow manager, Mark Cooper, has been slapped with an eight-game touchline ban after making reference to an assistant referee’s gender. Cooper made the comments to Helen Edwards during his team’s defeat to Exeter in August. Cooper denies the allegations, and the League Two club are considering an appeal.
Wayne Rooney has been warned by the FA over recent comments he made suggesting he wore long studs during Manchester United’s game against Chelsea in 2006 “to try and injure someone”. The Derby manager has not been charged or fined over the remarks.
Repeated heading and accidental head impacts in football cause changes to blood patterns in the brain, potentially interfering with signalling pathways, according to a new Norwegian study.
Frank Lampard has struck an ambivalent tone on working with a sporting director at Frank Lampard’s Everton. “The key for me is the communication and you’re working in the same direction. If you can get that mix, great,” ha-ha-yeah-noed Lampard.
Ralph Hasenhüttl has laughed off links with the Manchester United job after Southampton defender Jan Bednarek said the Austrian deserves to manage “the biggest teams in the world.” [no, sorry, too easy – Fiver Ed] “This was an awful question,” guffawed Hasenhuttl. “He tried to come out with a good answer and he did it.”
“What happened in January is not easy. Four players left in January. Four important players for Tottenham, two have arrived.” New to Daniel Levy, Antonio Conte?
Liverpool wait on news of Diogo Jota, after ankle knack suffered in the Big Cup win at Inter. “Twisted ankle, it was swollen,” wailed Jürg.
England’s home Nations League matches against Italy and Hungary will be played at Molineux in June – the first time Wolves have hosted the men’s national team since 1956. “We very much enjoy taking the squad on the road,” breezed Gareth Southgate.
Transfer talk: Kylian Mbappé will team up with Erling Haaland, according to La Liga president Javier Tebas. “Madrid will get Mbappé and Haaland as the others, Barcelona and Juventus, are half [financially] ruined,” Tebas roared.
And Dundee have appointed Mark McGhee as their new manager, despite the fact he still has a six-game touchline ban to serve from his Motherwell tenure. “We think there are ways around that,” said Dundee chief suit John Helms, as McGhee was hurriedly stuffed into a bear costume.
STILL WANT MORE?
The Pope’s Newc O’Rangers can freestyle their Big Vase match with Borussia Dortmund, writes Ewan Murray. It’s the league that matters.
Bobby Firmino and Luis Díaz showcased Liverpool’s strength in depth at San Siro, notes an espresso-sipping Jonathan Liew.
The SheBelieves Cup squad for the USA!!! USA!! USA! suggests that the Megan Rapinoe-Alex Morgan golden era could be near its end, writes Megan Swanwick.
Big Vase previews! Get yer Big Vase previews and predictions here!
He knows it, you know it, even educated fleas know it: Pep really, really, really needs to win Big Cup for Manchester City, writes Jamie Jackson.
And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!