European football may be over for this campaign bar one last hurrah in Manchester, but performances against City at home, Gladbach away and despite losing, Barcelona at home will fill Celtic fans with hopes of future glory as Brendan Rodgers’ side continues to progress. So let us indulge in memories of two great European Nights in Celtic’s recent history to have both taken place on this day. Hail Hail!
Celtic v Shakhtar Donetsk, 28 November 2007
In a year where the unmentionables from across the city reached the UEFA Cup Final, there was also a rather significant amount of success in the Champions League for the green half of Glasgow. Celtic were typically in a position of success at home having already defeated AC Milan through a late McDonald strike which was shortly followed by a monumental dive by Dida as a fan ran past his goal. Benfica were also dispatched thanks to an Aiden McGeady goal.
Typically for all that their home form was good their away form was poor, they had already lost away from home against Donetsk and Benfica and would go on to lose 1-0 to AC Milan in the final game of the group.
Within four minutes of the start of the game it looked as if it was going to be a long night for the Celtic faithful with Donetsk striker Brandao adding to the goal he had scored in the away leg in Ukraine. A long ball forward into the Celtic penalty area was dealt with very badly by the Celtic defence with an attempted headed clearance leaving the ball on an absolute plate for the Brazilian to slot away.
With only sixteen minutes played left back, Lee Naylor had to come off for Celtic with Massimo Donati coming on, little did the Celtic support know that this early change was to be extremely important.
Celtic managed to grab an equaliser just before the break, a similar long ball forward to the Donetsk goal was met by two Donetsk defenders challenging each other for the ball in the air. Neither of them gained a decisive touch and the ball broke to the man we signed from Chelsea, Jiri Jarosik. From what was a slightly acute angle the Czech midfielder rifled the ball into the top right corner. Shakhtar were sent scurrying down the tunnel for half time seconds later.
At 1-1 Celtic had belief, and knew that a win would be vital in their search for Champions League football post-Christmas. In the dying embers of the game, an inspired piece of trickery from Aiden McGeady saw him manage to beat his markers and somehow manage to cut the ball back to the edge of the box for one last Celtic chance. With only a matter of seconds left it fell to Donati. His shot was half blocked yet somehow managed to evade the keeper and nestle in the bottom left corner of the net, for only his fourth Celtic goal. Cue absolute bedlam and the commentators scream of “WHAT A TIME TO SCORE YOUR FIRST CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GOAL!”. This was the current Hamilton Accies man’s finest moment of his Celtic career without any doubt.
Celtic went on to qualify second in their group, having taken nine points from a possible nine at home and were given the daunting task of defeating a sterling Barcelona side. Despite an incredibly spirited home performance the hoops lost 2-3 on the night and lost by a single goal in the Nou Camp, going out 4-2 on aggregate.
Some incredible memories! If only Strachan’s ability to motivate players to play well above their individual powers could have crossed over into international management!
Celtic v Celta Vigo 28 November 2002
Celtic had already defeated FK Suduva convincingly 10-1 on aggregate and had taken great satisfaction in defeating Blackburn 2-0 at Ewood Park. This came after Souness’ infamous men against boys jibe to win 3-0 on aggregate. In the Third Round Celtic were drawn against Northern Spanish side Celta Vigo.
It was at this point that most people, Celtic fans included, started to get the feeling that they were watching a Celtic side who could be more than a match for any of the other teams in the competition, such was their dominance in Blackburn against a team which had players of the calibre of Damien Duff and ex Man United frontmen Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. Celtic’s record against Spanish teams, however, was and indeed is not very good. Quiet optimism tempered with a bit of caution was the feeling for the home leg at Celtic Park.
The nerves of the Celtic faithful were to be in no way aided by the referee. Frenchman Claude Columbo’s performance on the evening has been at best described as fussy and by most as utterly perplexing. Ridiculous after ridiculous decision was made until Martin O’Neill’s anger boiled over and he was sent to sit in the stands alongside the seething Celtic supporters.
The actual game itself did little for the Celtic fans nerves either as on numerous occasions they were forced to look on in horror as clear cut chances were spurned by a number of Celtic’s stars. Agathe’s volleyed open goal miss was probably the most glaring of them all.
At the start of the second half, however, Celtic enjoyed a ten minute period of serious concerted pressure, during which they finally managed to make the net bulge. A Chris Sutton shot from a Steve Guppy free kick was deflected just past the post. The resulting corner in turn was taken by Guppy. An inswinger was met by a combination of Bobo Baldé and John Hartson at the back post and bounced back across to the front post. Captain for the evening, Henrik Larsson was understandably being tightly marked. Despite this he still managed to outjump the two Vigo defenders he was sandwiched between to head past the goalkeeper Pinto, from a foot out. An utterly gutsy and determined poacher’s goal. Larsson wheeled away, arms typically outstretched to Magnificent Seven and Give Me Joy In My Heart. It was his 24th European goal, and despite it not even being December yet, his 25th for the season.
Late on in the game Celtic introduced Thompson for Guppy and then Sylla for Agathe in order to shore up the defence and see out the game, as well as to counteract the threat of the prolific South African striker, Benny McCarthy, who had been introduced by Vigo moments earlier. As it turned out a late slip up would have proved catastrophic as Celtic went through only on their away goal from their second leg 2-1 defeat in Vigo.
Just under six months later, the streets of Seville were to turn green and white, colours shared with local team Real Betis, as the bhoys embarked on their first European final in 33 years.
KEVIN JOHN THOMSON