Celtic piled on the agony for Rangers on this day in 2004. Martin O’Neill’s team won a poor quarter-final against their rivals to set up a potential treble (League, Scottish Cup and UEFA Cup). Conversely, Rangers were left disillusioned as they had already failed to win the League Cup, trailed Celtic by an enormous margin in the league and were knocked out of the Scottish Cup. Just like this season, a team calling themselves Rangers had little chance of winning any trophies.
The line-ups were as follows:
Douglas, McNamara, Balde, Varga, Valgaeren (Kennedy 85), Agathe, Lennon, Petrov, Pearson (Beattie 57, Sylla 90), Thompson, Larsson.
Klos, Moore, Frank de Boer, Berg, Ricksen, Rae, Arteta (Ronald de Boer 36), Hughes (Thompson 66), Ball, Lovenkrands, Arveladze.
Nothing could stop Celtic in Scotland, but Barcelona was seen to represent a rather more difficult hurdle in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup on the following Thursday night. (We all know how that turned out!) O’Neill was left sweating over the fitness of Chris Sutton, who missed the Rangers game through injury and ultimately didn’t make the Barcelona first leg at Paradise on the Thursday – his UEFA Cup place being taken by Craig Beattie as John Hartson and Shaun Maloney were also unfit.
Depleted as they were for the Scottish Cup quarter final, Celtic still created more opportunities than their opponents, though both sides lacked a cutting edge. That was until the 53rd minute, when Henrik Larsson intelligently stepped aside from a goalmouth scramble and slid home the winning goal when the ball finally broke loose. Indeed, a corner from Alan Thompson, who was being watched by then England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, was headed on by Bobo Balde to Stephen Pearson, whose shot was blocked by Stefan Klos, before the king of kings swiveled and scored.
That goal was Larsson’s 28th of the season and many more would follow. However, more importantly the strike extended Celtic’s unbeaten home run to 73 matches and put the Hoops into the last four along with Dunfermline, Inverness and either Livingston or Aberdeen.
Rangers, meanwhile, were left to rue a season bereft of silverware, but their manager Alex McLeish claimed he could see light at the end of the tunnel and blamed the Ibrox club’s failure on injuries.
In truth, both teams were depleted and their replacements struggled to get to grips with the occasion. Celtic certainly performed better though and created more chances – the cream of two poor performing sides on the day if you like. Stan Varga, Thompson, Larsson and the substitute Craig Beattie had decent efforts whereas Rangers’ only genuine chance came in the dying seconds, when Rae shot wide.
Martin O’Neill told The Guardian newspaper after the game: “We have a busy and tough schedule and I thought that showed even in the first half of this match when we were a bit laboured after our midweek European tie in Teplice.” “But it was a very important win which I felt we deserved, and now we can look forward to Barca.”
16 years later, we may not have the same capabilities in Europe, but it’s a domestic scenario we are more than accustomed to.
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