CELTIC came so close to their second European trophy when they played Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the UEFA Cup Final in Seville 20 years ago this week.

It was fated Martin O’Neill’s team of All-Stars, with Henrik Larsson leading the way, would suffer a glorious failure when their 10 men, minues red-carded Bobo Balde, lost 3-2 in extra-time.

Author Alex Gordon vividly captures the setting of a colourful episode in the club’s glorious history.

In Part Three of another CQN EXCLUSIVE, Alex takes an in-depth look of the momentous European run in his tribute publication, ‘The Winds of Change‘, published by CQN in 2015.

Please enjoy a walk down memory lane.

CELTA VIGO, a skilful Spanish outfit, came out of the ballot for the UEFA Cup Third Round, the first tie again in Glasgow due for November 28 2002.

French referee Claude Columbo spoiled the game as a spectacle with some bizarre decisions and Martin O’Neill was eventually banished to the stand by the incompetent match official after the Irishman could contain his frustration no longer.

Henrik Larsson was the man who mattered again with the only goal in the 52nd minute in front of a crowd of 53,726. It was typical Larsson as the Swede reacted more quickly than anyone else to rise above defenders and head home after Bobo Balde had nodded on a Steve Guppy corner-kick.

O’Neill said, ‘The referee’s performance left a lot to be desired. He tried to ruin what was a brilliant evening for us. But that’s enough talking about it because the referee did detract from our performance.

NET PROFIT…Henrik Larsson gets up above the Celta Vigo defenders to head past keeper Jose Pinto to give Celtic a first-leg advantage.

‘Our players, however, were terrific against a top-class side. We got the goal we deserved and we should have scored a few more. I couldn’t have higher praise for the team.’

Celta Vigo coach Miguel Angel Lotina sniffed, ‘I wasn’t very impressed by Celtic. I knew it would be more or less like this, but I was more impressed by the atmosphere.’

It was taut and tight in the return and Celtic urgently required a superb strike from John Hartson to get through on the goals away rule after the game had been tied at 2-2. A wicked deflection from Ulrik Laursen sent a shot from Jesuli past Rab Douglas to hand the initiative to the Galician team in the 24th minute.

Celtic, however, recovered heroically and Hartson plundered his so-important goal in the 36th minute. The brawny frontman got on the end of a Chris Sutton flick before defender Eduardo Berizzo to slide a low drive beyond keeper Jose Pinto at his far post.

In a match without respite, the Spaniards took the lead on the night in the 54th minute when Benni McCarthy stole ahead of Bobo Balde to get to a Gustavo Lopez cross and clip the ball away from Douglas. The last half-hour was frantic and O’Neill took off Hartson to replace him with Jackie McNamara who went straight into the backline.

WALLOP…John Hart thumps in the decisive goal in Spain.

The tactic worked and Celtic went into the draw for the last 16 the following morning.

The Celtic manager said, ‘It was a terrific effort from the players to beat Celta Vigo over two legs , but I have to admit it was a long last 45 minutes. They have some useful players, so we needed a great performance to get through.

‘We conceded a bad goal at a bad time, but we did well to get the equaliser and we hung on in the second-half. It was backs-to-the-wall stuff near the end. It’s a great night  for the club to be in Europe beyond Christmas for the first time in 23 years.

‘Full credit to the players – they created a bit of history tonight.’

Going for the ‘Sore Loser of the Season’ award, Celta boss Lotina moaned, ‘They gave us a very good game, but we should have scored a third goal and gone ahead to win the round. Celta Vigo would have been better winners and deserved to win more than Celtic.’

DELIGHT AND DESPAIR…Shaun Maloney celebrates Celtic’s second goal against Stuttgart with Stiliyan Petrov about to congratulate his team-mate.

The Parkhead side were given a February double date with Stuttgart in the next stage. And O’Neill faced the Bundesliga outfit without the talismanic Henrik Larsson, out with a double fracture of the jaw sustained in the previous game, a 2-1 home win over Livingston. John Hartson, too, was sidelined through suspension.

However, it looked as though things were swinging the Glasgow side’s way when Brazilian Marcelo Bordon, the German club’s strongman centre-half, was sent off for a professional foul on Shaun Maloney in only 16 minutes by Italian referee Pierluigi Collina.

Incredibly, the visitors took the lead 10 minutes later through a header from their highly-rated frontman Kevin Kuranyi.

Immediately, Celtic stepped up the tempo and Paul Lambert levelled in the 39th minute with a controlled drive into the corner of the net . On the stroke of half-time, Maloney, Larsson’s deputy alongside Chris Sutton in central attack, snapped onto an Alan Thompson pass and stroked the ball wide of Tino Hilderbrand.

HAPPY AWAY DAZE…Chris Sutton celebrates hitting Celtic’s second goal to stun Stuttgart in the second leg in Germany.

The keeper was beaten again in the 68th minute when a shrewd pass from Lambert released Stiliyan Petrov and he squeezed a shot between the keeper and the near post to wrap it up at 3-1.

O’Neill welcomed the win, but, at the same time, realised such a scoreline did not guarantee progress in Europe. ‘We know what we have to do in Germany,’ he said tersely.

There was an unlikely scenario after only 15 minutes in the Gottlieb-Daimler stadium on February 27 with the visitors leading 2-0 on the night and 5-1 on aggregate with goals from Thompson and Sutton.

Stuttgart, who were sitting third in the German top flight, were rattled, but, with right-back Andreas Hinkel, a future Celt, forcing them on, they came back into the contest and Christian Tiffert hauled one back with a header in the 38th minute.

In the 75th minute, Alexander Helb made it 2-2 and three minutes from time Michael Mutzel gave Felix Magath’s side a victory on the night, but Celtic advanced 5-4 on aggregate much to the delight of their manager.

THREE CHEERS…Bobo Balde, Neil Lennon and Paul Lambert, following their shirt exchange with the Stuttgart players, acknowledge the travelling Celtic support.

O’Neill said, ‘We’re through and that’s what matters. We also deserve to be in the quarter-finals. This was another marvellous effort and, although I became more nervous than necessary for us late on, I thought, by and large, we were in command.

‘The start was excellent and exactly what we wanted and from there we should probably have won the game. But Stuttgart are a quality team. We have achieved another excellent result over two legs.’

Europe was beginning to take notice of the upstarts from Scotland who had now knocked out teams from the English Premiership, Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga to get within two rounds of the UEFA Cup Final and a date with destiny in Seville.

Liverpool were next to attempt the derailment of the steady progress being shown by O’Neill and his team.

* TOMORROW: Don’t miss The Road to Seville Part Four

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