CELTIC came so close to their second European trophy when they played Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the UEFA Cup Final in Seville 21 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 Two of anotherĀ 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.

REFERRING to Blackburn Rovers’ visit to Parkhead on October 31 2002, Graeme Souness made all the right noises in public.

Away from the TV cameras and the reporters’ notebooks, the former Rangers manager was supremely confident of the outcome; the Celtic players would not be requiring passports for football journeys beyond the middle of November.

In truth, Martin O’Neill’s men failed to spark in the first leg and had to rely on a goal from Henrik Larsson five minutes from time for a slender advantage to take across the border for the second meeting on November 14.

Souness made the usual soothing, middle-of-the-road noises in Glasgow in the aftermath of his side’s defeat, but his cover was blown by his own captain, Garry Flitcroft, when he talked to the press.

THREE CHEERS…Henrik Larsson is about to be congratulated by Chris Sutton and John Hartson after claiming the winner against Blackburn Rovers at Parkhead.

Dodging the niceties that are normally observed on these occasions, the Englishman blabbed, ‘The gaffer has just said that was men against boys out there.’

Martin O’Neill didn’t have to work too hard on his player motivational skills when that quote became public.

A Celtic team, with the likes of Larsson, Chris Sutton and John Hartson, were well up for the second tie. Once it was known what Souness really thought of the opposing team, he went on record on the day of the game. ‘If Celtic score one, then we can score three,’ he postured.

‘Hopefully, by 10pm tonight, people will be saying, “Bloody hell, that Blackburn Rovers are a good side” and we’ll be in the next round.’

Seldom have the acoustics been so good at Ewood Park where vast swathes of green and white embraced a grey, old ground. Around 10,000 Celtic fans brought colour to a drab part of Lancashire and they had every reason to enjoy their visit to the home of Souness.

NUMBER ONE…Chris Sutton rises and shines as he bullets in a header.

There were quizzical looks swapped among the Blackburn Rovers players as the Parkhead side dominated proceedings. They had faced a ghost team in Glasgow, but they were now asked to deal with the real thing. They weren’t up to the task.

Inside 15 minutes, the hosts were a goal adrift and two on aggregate when Didier Agathe and Sutton combined to set Larsson free and he nimbly lifted the ball over Brad Friedel. The Darwen End of Ewood Park resembled the east end of Glasgow as the entertainment flowed from Celtic.

Sutton, a former Rovers player, put the finishing touches to his old team’s hopes of progression when he claimed the second with a header in the 68th minute.

NUMBER TWO…Henrik Larsson acclaims the goal that sealed the UEFA Cup victory at Ewood Park. Blackburn Rovers’ Damien Duff, who later had a spell as a backroom boy at Celtic, is downcast.

At the time, there had been a lot of informed reporting about Celtic wanting to move across the border to play their football. The Rovers fans taunted, ‘You’ll never play in England’ and by the end, on the evidence of this confrontation, Souness and Blackburn Rovers should have been grateful.

There were gleeful cries of ‘Ole!’ and ‘Easy…easy!’ as Lennon passed the ball to Sutton who touched it to Hartson who knocked it to Larsson who switched it to Thompson.

‘Can we play you every week?’ resounded round the ground.

Souness had watched his team being out-played while the home fans were out-sung. It was a very comprehensive, sound beating for the English team.

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

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