Martin O’Neill was always going to pop up this week to give his thoughts on Celtic’s last visit to the beautiful city of Seville 18 years ago when his Celtic side lost out in extra-time to Jose Mourinho’s Porto, a team that used every sleekit trick in the book and then went on to win the Champions League the next season. Mourinho of course always says that despite everything he went on to achieve in the game, beating Celtic in the 2003 UEFA Cup Final was his greatest achievement and the hardest game he’d ever been involved in.
Most Celtic fans haven’t been able to watch that game back, myself included. As Martin O’Neill points out in his newspaper interview this morning Henrik Larsson was magnificent in Seville and it was justice of a sort that he went on to turn around a Champions League final against Arsenal a few years later after coming off the bench for Barcelona in the final in Paris.
Perhaps we’ll delve into the Seville final throughout the day as we await kick-off. We have some pretty amazing stories to tell you.
“Seville was a fantastic occasion but a big, big disappointment. It still rankles, even now all these years on. And I don’t think I’ll ever feel any differently about it,” the former Celtic manager told Scottish Sun. “I’ve talked to some of the ex-players about it and they feel exactly the same. It wasn’t so much that we lost to Porto, who went on to win the Champions League the next year. That wasn’t the issue.
“It was just the manner of the defeat. Henrik Larsson was simply sensational on the night and I thought we could and should have won it. But it wasn’t to be. So when I think back on it I think about the occasion and 75,000 Celtic supporters descending upon Seville.
“They got there by hook or by crook and it was wonderful. Celtic fans always find a way. But then that quickly turns to a feeling of real disappointment. A defeat like that, in a final, is pretty difficult to get over. We did so much work to get there and beat some great sides on the way.
“Blackburn Rovers were no back number at that time. I remember going to see them play Arsenal at Highbury a week or two before we played them and they were fifth or sixth in the Premier League. It became a big thing in the press, Scotland against England. People down there were saying, ‘If Blackburn Rovers can take care of the best in Scotland then where does that leave Scottish football?’
“Strangely enough, that made us more determined. We obviously wanted to do well for our own football club, but we all wanted Scottish football to be recognised and considered pretty decent.
“From memory, we didn’t play well in the first game at Celtic Park, but went down to Ewood Park and turned it on. I remember we filled the stand behind one of the goals. What a big, big mistake that was by Blackburn.
“I swear, from the minute I went out for the warm-up and saw how many supporters we had, I just knew we’d win. We couldn’t lose that night.
“After that we played Liverpool, which was just extraordinary. What a night at Anfield. That was when I thought we had a right good chance of reaching the final. Getting there was fantastic as it was the club’s first final since 1970, obviously after the wonderful team of 1967.
“So there is a lot to be proud of when I think back to the final against Jose Mourinho’s Porto.But those are the things which probably make the disappointment of Seville all the more gnawing.”