We’ve been here several times before. Our first venture into the Champions League play-off round was in 1998 against (then) Croatia Zagreb. Zagreb were clearly the better team but while a 1-0 win in the home leg gave us hope we were outclassed in the return game.
The unforgettable tie against Ajax was next. Celtic’s best away performance in this tournament saw us beat the Dutch champions 1-3 in Amsterdam. Ajax were clearly caught cold and performed infinitely better at Celtic Park, winning 0-1, but Celtic shut up shop to deny them any real chance of progression.
Basel were unknown and un-fancied in 2002 but their movement in central midfield was too much for Celtic, although curiously they only managed to perform for 45 minutes in each game. An away goal defeat blocked our route to the top competition. MTK Budapest were professionally swept aside in 2003.
Who can forget Spartak Moscow? Just as they had done against Ajax, Celtic did the hard work away in the first leg, returning with a 1-1 draw, but incredible dramas unfolded at Celtic Park. Roman Pavluchenko levelled Scott McDonald’s opener but the Russian missed a first half penalty. The game went to extra time and with minutes left a defender punched Scott Brown’s shot off the line. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink missed with the resulting spot kick setting up a memorable penalty competition.
Vennegoor of Hesselink and Pavluchenko both scored this time as brave efforts from Gary Caldwell, Derek Riordan and Maciej Zurawski, who almost certainly knew he would never kick another ball for Celtic, and a save by Artur Boruc, sent us through. Naka proved that 12 yards is too close a dead ball distance for him.
A favourite Celtic Park memory? You bet.
The adrenaline is pumping already. Bring it on.