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ENGLISH OPPONENTS IN EUROPE: MANCHESTER UNITED 2008

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IN this CQN series has been looking back at Celtic’s English opponents in Europe and so far have covered 14 competitive matches from the first encounter against Liverpool in 1966 through to that night at Celtic Park when Shunsuke Nakamura scored from THAT free kick.

We’ll also have a look at our games against Spanish and German sides over the next few weeks.

In these 14 matches against English sides in Europe Celtic have won 7, drawn 4 and lost 3 which may surprise some as the English media tend to make us massive underdogs.

Links to the our features on the earlier ties are below.

ENGLISH OPPONENTS IN EUROPE:

LIVERPOOL 1966…READ HERE.

LEEDS UNITED 1970….READ HERE.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST 1983…READ HERE.

LIVERPOOL 1997…READ HERE.

BLACKBURN ROVERS 2002…READ HERE.

LIVERPOOL 2003…READ HERE.

MANCHESTER UNITED 2006…READ HERE.

TWO seasons later, Celtic were again drawn in the same group as Manchester Utd, who were holders of the trophy. As in 2006, Celtic were reigning Scottish champions so entered at the group stage. This time the other 2 teams were Villareal and the Danish club, Aalborg.
The teams lined up at Old Trafford on 21st October 2008, and Celtic fans were hoping that a cure could be found for our ‘away day sickness’ which had seen Celtic losing 15 and drawing 1 of the previous 16 away games in the Champions’ League.
Celtic got off to a promising start and McGeady forced Van der Saar into a save with a 20 yard shot. United then went ahead on the half hour mark but it was a highly contentious goal. John O’Shea put the ball through  to the danger area following Nani’s corner. It reached Berbatov, who was clearly in an offside position. He flicked the ball past Boruc, as Celtic players and fans waited, in vain, for the referee to disallow the goal.
Six minutes after half time, worse was to follow. United doubled their lead but there were again justifiable questions about the legitimacy of the goal. Ronaldo struck  a thundering, long range shot, which Boruc did well to palm out. The ball reached Berbatov, again clearly in an offside position. He turned the ball into the net. For the second time, referee Frank de Bleeckre saw nothing wrong.
These 2 goals completely demoralised Celtic and it was no surprise when Wayne Rooney completed the scoring in the 75 th minute.
Two weeks later, the teams lined up against each other at Celtic Park. When United took to the field wearing an all blue strip, it looked like Alex Ferguson was trying to wind up Celtic ‘s vast army of fans. Aiden McGeady was injured, which was a blow as he had been in good form. At Old Trafford, Gordon Strachan had used Scott McDonald as a lone striker but a draw would be of limited use to Celtic in this match, so Stachan gave young Irishman Cillian Sheridan his Champions’ League debut. Strachan hoped that Sheridan’s physical presence would test United’s central defenders,  Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
The opening exchanges were characterised  by  passing and shooting that lacked precision, with both teams missing chances. However, Celtic opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a goal that was an example of perfect finishing. From the edge of the box, Caldwell headed the ball to McDonald. He remained composed and lobbed United goalkeeper Ben Foster from 14 yards.celtica08
This was Celtic’s first goal in the 2008-9 Champions’ League campaign whereas it was the first conceded by United.
United responded to this goal by increasing the pace of their play. Carrick, Tevez, Fletcher and Ronaldo had Celtic pinned back. For the remainder of the first half, Celtic came under serious pressure. They forced several corners and Vidic came close with several headers. Shaun Maloney provided some relief for the hard pressed home defence and, after 30 minutes, he cut in from the left wing. However, his shot was well saved by Foster.
As half time approached, Celtic’s central defenders were  showing excellent form and were resisting everything that United could throw at them. They were helped by midfielders Brown, Hartley and Robson who worked hard to ensure that Carrick and Fletcher could not use their creative skills.
The second half started with a long range Maloney shot, which Foster dealt with. After this, the pattern of the first half was repeated. The wealth of talent at United’s disposal was evident when they were able to bring on Rooney and Berbatov as substitutes. With time running out, it looked like Celtic’s defensive effort was going to clinch all 3 points.144651hp2
However, United levelled the match in the 84th minute. Boruc failed to hold a thunderous swerving shot by Ronaldo from 25 yards. Veteran Giggs then rushed in to head the ball past  a helpless Boruc.
With 4 games played, Celtic only had 2 points and faced  an away game against Aalborg and a final game at home to  a very strong Villareal team. As it turned out, a disastrous 2-1 defeat in Denmark completely ended Celtic’s European season.
A good 2-0 final day win over Villareal was only a consolation as Celtic’s 5 points saw them finish at the bottom of the group.
So with 16 competitive games against English clubs from 1966 to 2008 Celtic’s record is won 7, drawn 5 and lost 4.
Written by Hugh Gallagher for CQN.
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