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‘PLAYERS WILL BE DREAMING,’ CELTIC HERO

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CELTIC hero Stan Petrov is convinced disappointment against Valencia was the spur for Martin O’Neill’s men to reach the UEFA Cup Final in Seville in 2003.

The Hoops toppled out of Europe 17 years ago after flopping during a penalty-kick shoot-out with the Spanish giants after their two-legged confrontation had finished 1-1 on aggregate.

O’Neill’s side won 1-0 at Parkhead with a goal from Henrik Larsson to level the tie and it remained that way following extra-time.

It went to spot-kicks and the home side fluffed their lines with THREE spot-kick misses, Petrov, Larsson and Joos Valgaeren the fall guys as the visitors kept their nerve and won through to the next stage.

It was so near and yet so far, but there was no shame in going out to a team, who were managed by current Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez, and included such world-class stars as Santiago Canizares, Mauricio Pellegrino and Pablo Aimar. They were also twice runners-up in the Champions League and went on to win La Liga that season.

ROCK OF AGES…Stan Petrov turns out in the Celtic Foundation Charity Match at Parkhead in May 2017.

Former Bulgarian international captain Petrov recalled: “That was an incredible night at Celtic Park. The atmosphere was unbelievable and even the Valencia players were shocked at the noise.

“It was so disappointing losing on penalties, especially when we had a lot of chances to win the tie. I’ve tried to forget my penalty.

“But we took a lot from that game. When you play in Europe it is about learning and we were learning how to get through these matches – and we took it into the next season.

“We were written off so many times when we went on the run to Seville.

“No-one expected us to beat teams from England, Germany and Spain. No-one thought we’d win against Liverpool at Anfield.

“We were underdogs in all the games we played and it will be the same for Celtic this time. Valencia might not be the team they were in 2001, but they are still a top Spanish side with a lot of talent.

“But what Celtic do have is Celtic Park. It’s a special place and incredible things can happen there. We’ve seen it so many times over the years.

“The fans start from the first minute and it really lifts the players. It’s electric.

“It gives you such belief, no matter who you are playing against.”

YOU NEVER LOSE IT…Henril Larsson at Celtic two years ago.

Fans’ favourite Petrov added: “It is a big achievement to get to this stage as we all know the importance for Celtic playing in Europe after Christmas.

“The Champions League was obviously the main target for Celtic this season, but while there was always going to be disappointment after missing out, every time you compete at these levels it is about learning.

“The Europa League is a very good competition and there have been some great nights at Celtic Park already this year.

“You look at the Leipzig and Salzburg games – they felt almost like the Champions League.

“It was a very tough group when you think there were champions from three countries in there along with a strong team from Germany.

“To qualify ahead of a Bundesliga club was massive and it should give Celtic a lot of confidence going into the knock-out stages.

ON THE RUN…James Forrest in action in the 2-1 win over RB Leipzig in November.

”I’d love to see Celtic go far in the competition. We know European football has changed a lot and there is a lot of money in the game these days.

“It’s probably harder than ever, especially with the Champions League teams coming into the competition. So, you have to be realistic and admit it will be difficult.

“But that doesn’t mean you can’t aim high and have dreams. Celtic have a great manager in Brendan Rodgers.

“The great thing is this team has been together for a long time. They have achieved some big results in Europe and also suffered a few disappointing ones.

‘“But they have gained experience every time. They are used to playing in Europe each year and doing well against strong sides. It is a bit like us all those years ago.

“They’ll be dreaming of doing something special.”

 
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