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THE FRENCH CONNECTION 3: THRILLS AND SPILLS, BUT A DOUBLE KNOCK-OUT FOR O’NEILL’S BHOYS

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CELTIC face £200million man Neymar and his Paris Saint-Germain team-mates to at Parkhead on Tuesday, September 12, to kick off their Champions League campaign.

The Hoops have faced French opposition seven times in the past with five wins, six defeats and three draws from the 14 games.

Here is the third instalment in CQN’s exclusive look at the Hoops’ battles with French opposition over the years.

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HENRIK LARSSON enjoyed better fortune on his return to France almost a year to the day after his horrific leg break against Lyon.

The super Swede led the Celtic attack against Bordeaux in the UEFA Cup second round first leg encounter and was on the scoresheet with the vital leveller to give the Hoops hopes a 1-1 draw and hope in the return game the following fortnight in front of their own support.

Martin O’Neill had got off to a flying start in his career as Celtic manager and had his side well organised. However, they took their eye off the ball when the French took the lead in the 21st minute.

Johan Mjallby and Tom Boyd failed to pick up Christophe Dugarry at a corner-kick and the French international ghosted in at the near post to glance a header beyond Jonathan Gould.

However, Larsson had the perfect reply when he equalised only three minutes after he had been downed in the box following a clumsy challenge from David Sommeil.

The maverick frontman was the calmest person in the ground as he sent goalkeeper Ulrich Rahme the wrong way.

O’Neill and his cohorts had every reason to be confident of completing the job on a chilly evening in the east end of Glasgow on November 9.

Remarkably, after dominating almost from the start, it was 1-1 after 90 minutes with the tie forced to go into extra-time.

Another tale of European woe looked far removed when Lubo Moravcik put the Hoops ahead in the 54th minute with a brilliantly-struck drive from outside the penalty box that zipped low beyond the stretching Rahme.

With only 12 minutes to play and with O’Neill’s men looking in total command of the situation, the French broke upfield and Lilian Laslandes made it all-square when he bundled a right-wing cross beyond Gould.

The tie went into extra-time and Laslandes thumped an angled shot high into the net in the 114th minute and the game was settled there and then.

O’Neill reflected: “It’s galling to think we outplayed a very talented side and didn’t win the match. We had them beat.

“It’s very hard to take. I could not have asked for an ounce more effort from my players, but we could not convert the chances we created in a game we should have killed off before half-time.”

The Irishman had the opportunity for revenge when Celtic came up against old foes Lyon in the Champions League group stages in season 2003/04.

They were also drawn against Bayern Munich – where they lost 3-2 in Germany and drew 0-0 in Glasgow – and Anderlecht, winning 3-1 at home and losing 1-0 in Belgium.

A crowd of almost 60,000 watched the first game against Lyon that was packed with incident and drama.

Alan Thompson squandered a fifth-minute opportunity to get the home side off to a flyer, but he fluffed a penalty-kick and keeper Gregory Coupet saved easily.

However, he had no chance when Liam Miller got the breakthrough goal in the 70th minute with a flying header following some great lead-up play from Henrik Larsson.

Eight minutes it was joy unconfined in Paradise when the Swede was the provider again with a precision cross which was knocked into the net by Chris Sutton to seal a 2-0 triumph.

All eyes were now on the next game between the pair in France on December 10 when O’Neill knew a defeat would see his team tumble out of Europe’s top tournament.

It was deadlocked at 2-2 until Bobo Balde was adjudged to have used a hand four minutes from time when a hopeful cross dropped into the box. Swiss referee Urs Meier sensationally immediately pointed to the spot.

Magnus Hedman went the wrong way as Juninho, no relation to the Brazilian who had a brief spell at Parkhead, rolled the ball home.

Celtic had twice fought back from a goal behind with strikes from John Hartson and Sutton, but their bravery was not rewarded after a harsh judgement on the normally-reliable Balde.

O’Neill lamented: “Even their players didn’t think it was a penalty-kick. When the ball was diverted past the post they rushed to take a corner-kick.

“It was a tough result to take.”

* TOMORROW: THE FRENCH CONNECTION FOUR 

LISTEN to the Thomas “Kidso” Reilly story on the current edition of the CQN Podcast…

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