It may not reach the levels of vitriol reserved for the unrepentantly Catholic Artur Boruc and the unrepentantly Irish Aiden McGeady but Georgios Samaras will still be a target for the Ibrox boo-boys tomorrow following the comments he made towards the end of last season but the big striker is still looking forward to the derby match and hopes to enjoy it. The tabloid fuelled hysteria that resulted in Samaras being vilified by Hun players and fans alike was a typically over the top reaction to what was, to all intents and purposes, a quite innocuous statement by Samaras that he believed his own team played better football than their city rivals. Georgios appeared before the press again yesterday in the lead up to the first Glasgow derby of the season and it's fair to say that he was a bit more guarded than last time out.
"Sometimes things can be misunderstood." said Samaras. "I can try to say some things in English and perhaps it is my fault that I do not use the correct words. But I always have respect for Rangers. They are a top team in Scotland and in Europe. Rangers often play in the Champions League and have won a lot of titles so I would never be disrespectful to them. I respect them and I'd like them to respect me also. Maybe I was misunderstood but I don't care because it was in the past and I prefer to look to the future."
A win at Ibrox could see the Celts stretch their lead to seven points at this early stage in the season but Samaras knows from experience that, regardless of Sunday's result, it's too early to make assumptions on the destination of the title. "It is nice to play these kind of games and you want to go in there without pressure and enjoy yourself." said Celtic's number 9. "It's not just a game. It's possibly the greatest derby in the world. You don't know what is going to happen. It's early in the season and you can drop points home or away. It's a game at Ibrox I hope we can go and enjoy it. Simple as that. Two years ago, they were seven points clear and we won the title. Last year, we were seven points clear and they won it. So a seven-point gap doesn't matter at this stage. Personally, if we play home or away, or are 10 points clear or behind, you should go to Ibrox and enjoy your football."
The midweek European fixtures saw the Huns drubbed 4-1 at home by Sevilla whilst Celtic were disappointed only to draw 1-1 with Rapid Vienna, having outplayed them for much of the match, but Samaras doesn't think that these results will have much bearing on the derby. "To be honest, it is good for both teams to win in Europe to help the Scottish ranking in UEFA." said the Greek international. "But it is difficult to play in the Champions League or the Europa League. We both have quality players and the past does not matter."
"Just because Rangers lost 4-1 to Sevilla doesn't mean confidence will be down because it's totally different against Celtic." he said. "The destiny of both sides is to go into the game and try to win. Rangers will look for that because it would be massive for them and we are going to be the same. I hope to play well and win. You can't say because Rangers have had three recent draws in the SPL it will affect their confidence as the Old Firm is completely different. Maybe they can change their mentality to turn it around and win. One game can do that."
The encounter will see Tony Mowbray go head-to-head with Walter 'Walter' Smith for the first time in a Glasgow derby and Samaras is hoping that his boss will the happier of the two men come the final whistle. "The gaffer would be really excited to win because it would put us seven points clear." he said. "But it's not what happens in this game that's going to matter so much. It's having the trophy in our hands at the end of the season."