The financial disparity between Scottish football and the big leagues around Europe is well known. It is not surprising then that Celtic have struggled to compete outwith one off occasions in European competition recently. That said, it is frightening to think that the last time Celtic won a knockout tie in Europe (excluding qualifiers) was way back in 2004!
Celtic have played in six knockout stage ties in the last 16 years, failing to progress on each occasion. However, Neil Lennon was a player at the club when Celtic made it all the way to the UEFA Cup final in 2003, as well as being an integral part of the team that reached the quarter-finals a year later. Under his stewardship, Celtic have shown the ability to win away from home on the continent – a previously impossible task. Indeed, the first time round Lennon’s side defeated Spartak Moscow in Russia, and this time his team has recently beaten Lazio in Rome.
Celtic go into the tie as favourites tonight. It is a position the club hasn’t been in ahead of a knockout contest in Europe since they faced FK Teplice in February 2004, it could be argued. On that occasion, the Bhoys brushed aside the Czechs with a Larsson brace and Sutton goal giving Celtic a 3-0 first leg advantage. Celtic lost 1-0 in the away leg, which was enough to see them through to face Barcelona in the last 16.
A star studded Barcelona were expected to progress, despite the fact that Celtic had performed superbly in Europe during that period. Nevertheless, the Catalans were stunned at Celtic Park as Alan Thompson’s scissor kick gave Celtic a famous 1-0 victory on 11 March 2004. David Marshall then performed heroics in the Camp Nou, two weeks later, as Celtic held on for a 0-0 draw. This was the last time that Celtic won a knockout tie in Europe!
The Bhoys met Villarreal in the quarters, and Henrik Larsson rescued a draw with a second half header to make the score 1-1. It wasn’t enough though, as Celtic crashed out of Europe with a 2-0 defeat in Spain, on 14 April 2004.
It’s high time that the Hoops stood up to be counted in Europe. A club the size of Celtic belongs on this stage and we have a real opportunity to achieve something in the Europa League this season. Let’s hope new memories can be made.
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