Rule G7 of the SPFL’s rule book states that clubs can request re-arrangement of “any official match where three or more of its players who would otherwise have participated in such match are unavailable through international selection and, following receipt of such an application, the board may postpone and rearrange the relevant official match in accordance with rule G3”.
That is the scenario set to face Celtic owing to the World Cup qualifiers to be played by Japan and Australia on January 27 and February 1. If Japan call up any two of Celtic’s Japanese quartet that comprises of Kyogo Furuhashi, Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi – the first three all having been selected recently for their country – and Tom Rogic is picked to represent Australia, then the three threshold would be reached. The United States national team also have three World Cup qualifiers in this timeframe. That could impact on Cameron Carter-Vickers’ availability for manager Ange Postecoglou, although the 24-year-old hasn’t been capped in two-and-a-half years and all eight of international appearances have come in friendlies.
It has emerged that the SPFL board would be unlikely to allow Celtic to be selective over which games they contested while they were without at least three senior internationals, and would accede to the postponement request only if the Parkhead club were also willing to re-arrange the away game against Hearts on January 26 and their fixture at home to Dundee United three days later.
Postecoglou stated this week it has been in his club’s “planning for a while” to deal with the loss of internationals across late January/early February. It may be that the knock-on effects of not playing Rangers – however understrengthed they might be for that derby – will be considered more problematic than taking the game on.
If Celtic and Rangers emerged unscathed from their first league fixtures back in mid-January, wherein Postecoglou’s side will host Hibs on January 17 before Rangers are in Aberdeen the following evening, then Celtic knocking out the three games scheduled to follow would give the Ibrox club an opportunity to take a strangehold in the title race. While Celtic were inactive, their rivals would have the opportunity to open up a 12-point gap at the top of the table through taking full points from their home game against Livingston on January 26 and from a trip to Dingwall to take on Ross County three days later. Rangers are only expected to be without one player over this period, with Joe Aribo representing Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations.
Moreover, should Celtic progress in the Scottish Cup and Europa Conference League, there would be no windows for them to play the three postponed games until April, all of which suggests a real dilemma could await for Postecoglou when Japan, Australia and the United States announce their squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers over the next fortnight.