An extract from Majic, Stan and The King of Japan – Matt Corr’s new book, Published by The Celtic Star and out on Friday 20 October, save the date for a very special night at Celtic Park…
The first week in September was reserved for international fixtures across the globe as the race to reach the 2006 World Cup finals tournament in Germany approached its final stretch. Scotland’s vital qualifying clash with Italy at Hampden on Saturday, 3 September 2005 saw Craig Beattie make his first appearance at that level, the young Celt replacing goalscorer Kenny Miller with 15 minutes remaining, just seconds after Fabio Grosso had equalised for the star-studded Italians, who would win Group 5 then the trophy itself the following summer in Berlin.
Wolverhampton Wanderers’ striker Miller would add a double in midweek as the Scots beat Norway 2-1 in Oslo, Beattie again a late substitute, this time for Everton’s James McFadden. The Norwegians included former Celtic defender Vidar Riseth, now enjoying a second spell with Rosenborg after three years spent in Germany with 1860 Munich.
John Hartson went close several times in Wales’ qualifying tie against England at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on the Saturday, a deflected Joe Cole shot giving the English victory. He was then suspended for the midweek trip to Warsaw, his Celtic teammate Maciej Zurawski scoring the only goal from the penalty spot early in the second half as the Welsh failed to gain revenge for the 3-2 defeat in their previous clash in Cardiff 11 months earlier, when both Hartson and Zurawski had been on target. Poland thus continued their excellent form in Group 6, Artur Boruc enjoying a second successive clean sheet in a match which saw the first international appearance of Joe Ledley.
The Cardiff City youngster came on as a late substitute for Hartson’s replacement, Robert Earnshaw. Boruc and Zurawski had also played in a 3-0 win over Austria in Chorzow four days earlier, the striker claiming Poland’s third.
There was another Celtic reunion of sorts in Stockholm that same afternoon, as Sweden faced Stan Petrov’s Bulgaria in a Group 8 qualifier. The home front three comprised Stan’s old teammate Henrik Larsson plus Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Freddie Ljungberg, the latter on target in a 3-0 win.
Hristo Stoichkov’s men did taste victory in midweek, Bayer Leverkusen star Dimitar Berbatov with Bulgaria’s first goal as they fought back from two goals down to beat Iceland 3-2 in Sofia, Stan Petrov playing the full 90 minutes.
Elsewhere, Stan Varga came on for the final five minutes of Slovakia’s 1-1 draw with Latvia in Riga, whilst his defensive partner Bobo Balde put in a full shift as Guinea beat Malawi 3-1 in Conakry but the furthest travelled international Celt that week was Shunsuke Nakamura, who scored with a penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half in already-qualified Japan’s 5-4 friendly win over Honduras in Miyagi on the Wednesday night before commencing the long flight back to Glasgow.
The international stars were all to the fore at the weekend. Aberdeen were the visitors to Celtic Park on Saturday, 10 September 2005, the 20th anniversary of the great Jock Stein’s death, just as they had been back in 1985, four days after the tragedy in Cardiff.
The visiting supporters displayed a banner with the words, ‘RIP Jock Stein,’ a nice touch appreciated by the home crowd. With Neil Lennon and Alan Thompson restored to the starting line-up, Maciej Zurawski followed up his Dunfermline and Poland goals with another fine performance, the Polish striker scoring the opener in 13 minutes then setting up Stan Petrov to beat Pittodrie keeper Ryan Esson with a low drive for the decisive second on the hour, as Jimmy Calderwood’s Dons were sent packing in front of just under 60,000 spectators.
At the Falkirk Stadium the same afternoon, Rangers followed up their home defeat to Hibernian two weeks earlier by dropping another point in a 1-1 draw.
A tricky trip to Easter Road the following Sunday was settled by a moment of magic in the first five minutes, Shunsuke Nakamura’s delightfully threaded pass allowing Stan Petrov to beat Hibernian’s goalkeeper Zbigniew Malkowski and future Hoops defender Gary Caldwell to slide home his second goal in consecutive games.
The Japanese midfielder was inches away from a second after the interval, his long-range free-kick beating the ‘other Polish keeper’ all ends up but thumping back off the post to safety. There were a couple of late scares for Celtic, as first Steven Whittaker then Steven Fletcher threatened to grab an undeserved equaliser, but Artur Boruc and his defenders stood firm and the black-clad Nike Celts returned along the M8 with another three precious points in the bag.
Matt Corr – @Boola_vogue
An extract from Majic, Stan and The King of Japan – the new blockbuster from Celtic Star Books. Pre-order signed and personalised copies now via the link below…
— Matt Corr (@Boola_vogue) September 16, 2023