Zlatan’s talent, as a substitute in both games for Ajax in Champions League qualification duty against Celtic 19 years ago, was blindingly obvious. It is an incredible achievement that he remains at the top of the game all these years later. Pity the younger generation of Celtic fans have been robbed of a chance to see one of the modern game’s greats strut his stuff on our hallowed turf in the flesh.
We have faced Milan five times on European Cup/Champions League duties, never in the lesser tournaments. The away leg of the 1969 quarter-final ended goalless, passing the advantage to Celtic, but the name Prati still makes older fans shiver. Celtic battered the Milan goal after Prati’s early strike to no avail. The visitors would go on to win the final comfortably against a still-emerging Ajax, with Prat grabbing a hat-trick. Back then, this trophy was regarded as one that got away from us.
The next time we met Milan was in 2004 in the San Siro, when we were level until the 89th minute before losing two late goals (some of us were on labour ward duties and missed the action). The return ended goalless, as did the home leg, when the teams met in the last 16 in 2007 – and the corresponding away leg. Milan edged the tie in extra time to proceed to the quarter-finals and, again, going on to win the cup.
The teams met later on that year in the group stage, Celtic recording a famous 2-1 win, their only win over reigning European champions. Milan won their home game with an Inzaghi strike well into the second half, but the narrow defeat was enough for Celtic to progress to the knock-out rounds on the night.
A year on from their Barcelona triumph, Celtic wilted in a daunting 2013 Champions League group against Barca, Milan and Ajax. A home win over Ajax and five defeats was a muted end to European endeavours in Neil Lennon’s first period charge.
That single win over European champions was followed next time out by a horrendous showing at Fir Park against Gretna, where two goals in the closing five minutes gave Celtic a 1-2 win. Beating the best, beating Milan, does not always require great domestic form. Hope in our hearts……