Martin O'Neill's phrase "astonishingly
brilliant" first used in defeat, would be better applied
to Celtic's UEFA Cup campaign. Victory over Liverpool
means that this is the best European campaign by a Scottish club
since Rangers came within one match of the European Cup Final ten
years ago, the best in the UEFA Cup since Dundee United reached
the Final in 1987 and the best by a Celtic team since reaching the
last four of the European Cup in 1974.
Success at Anfield was achieved by virtue of an Alan Thompson
free kick just before half-time and a superb strike from John
Hartson, atoning for his penalty miss in the League Cup Final
just days beforehand. Celtic have now played Premiership opposition
four times in the UEFA Cup and have a record of three wins and a
draw. Either the SPL is not as bad as we often think it is, or
the English Premiership not quite as good as is often claimed.
The draw for the semi-finals gives Celtic an excellent chance of
reaching the Final in Seville on May 21st. Italian giants Lazio
and Portuguese league leaders Porto will clash in one game
while Celtic take on Porto's 'second' team, Boavista, in
the other. Boavista were founded by English textile company workers
in 1903. This, their centenary year, is the best European run they
While Porto are undoubtedly the 'big' club in the city, Boavista
are clearly the second, being much better supported than the city's
other team, Salgueiros. They play in the Estadio Do Bessa
in the Bessa district of Porto where most of their support is based.
The ground is in the process of being rebuilt for Euro 2004 and
currently has a capacity of just 15,000 so unless the match is moved
to Porto's Estadio Das Antas, tickets for Celtic supporters will
be in short supply.
While our League is often described as a two-horse
race, the field in Portugal is usually restricted to three - Benfica,
Sporting and Porto. When Boavista took their first Portuguese title
in 2001 it was the first championship by a club outside the big
three since 1946. Last season they finished runners-up which
entitled them to join the second round of the Champions League qualifiers.
Like Celtic they were eliminated in the third round and joined the
UEFA Cup. But while their European form has, at times, been impressive,
they are on the slide domestically. Currently they lie 8th in the
League and have won just once away from home all season.
That poor away form has continued in Europe. In seven away ties
they have won only one game, in Cyprus. They were even held to a
draw in Malta. Yet in the last three rounds of the UEFA Cup they
have come back from away defeats against Paris St Germain, Hertha
Berlin and Malaga to win twice on away goals and once
Celtic, meanwhile have played the first leg of all their European
games this season at home. And after the shock of defeat in Basle
have scored in every away match. So the pattern for the forthcoming
tie seems clear. Celtic will look to take a two-goal lead, preferably
without losing a goal, into the second leg. They are capable of
doing so. The one word of caution is that for the first time since
they played Lithuanian minnows Suduva, Celtic will go into a tie
as favourites to win. They have handled underdog status well against
Blackburn, Celta Vigo, Stuttgart and Liverpool. But no amount of
obfuscation from Martin O'Neill can disguise the fact, that having
got this far, Celtic supporters will expect to be booking tickets
for the Final in the home of the orange.
And those with an orange tint of their own back in Scotland should
be roaring them on. Every Celtic victory aids Scotland's UEFA co-efficient.
Without going into the arcane world of how this is worked out, suffice
to say that with reaching the semis and Turkey's Besiktas losing
to Lazio, Scotland are guaranted 9th place for the 2004-05 season.
This means that NEXT SEASON'S SPL champions will be GUARANTEED
a direct entry into the Champions League for 2004-05.
A rich irony that, outside of Celtic supporters, those with most
cause to be grateful for Celtic's triumph must be the cash-strapped
Rangers board who must surely appreciate the benefits of guaranteed
Champions League status in eighteen months time, should they win
next season's title.
Next season we will be in 12th position which means that both Old
Firm teams will enter the Champions League at the third round qualifying
stage and both will be seeded. They will avoid being drawn against
Spanish, English or Italian opposition but progress is by no means
guaranteed. Celtic were the seeded team against Basle this year!
However, there will be NO increase in the number of Scottish
clubs in Europe. And, as things stand at present it is unlikely
that our other European entrants would be seeded beyond the Qualifying
round of the UEFA Cup.
That may actually be for the best. At present our country co-efficient
is worked out by dividing points gained by the number of teams entered
and a fifth club would be certain to depress our overall tally.
Hampden Park is 100 years old this year. To commemorate
the occasion two of Scottish footballs best-known historians
Forrest Robertson and David Ross - are teaming
up to produce a new book all about the famous ground and the great
matches that have been played there. And theyre offering YOU
the chance to feature in the book.
Theyre looking for Hampden memories. When was YOUR
first visit to the national stadium? What do you remember about
the occasion? Was it a Cup Final? International? Maybe it was a
League match or a Junior Cup Final? Were there over 130,000 crammed
into the ground? Or a few hundred souls looking swamped by the vast
arena? Was it a glorious victory? Or perhaps a defeat that left
you in tears?
Whatever it was, Forrest and David want to hear from you. Put
Hampden the first time in the subject line and e-mail
webmaster@REMOVE ALL IN CAPITALS scottishleague.net
with your Hampden memory. Remember, to say who you are and where
you are from in the e-mail and please do not send any attachments.
Every e-mail received will be replied to.
Hampden in 1970
Forrest Robertson is the author of The
A-Z of Scottish Football, and the statistical history of Queens
Park. He has been BBC Scotlands TV statistician for about
20 years, has also provided statistics for Panini and the Daily
Record, is a regular contributor to the Scottish Football Historian
and has contributed to many football histories over the past 30
David Ross is the author of the books Killie
the Official History, Simply The Best, Everygame,
and the CDComplete History of Scottish Football.
He is the webmaster of www.scottishleague.net and has appeared successfully
on the TV programmes Mastermind and The People
Versus taking football as a specialised subject. He has contributed
to many football publications over the past 20 years
Congratulations to Celtic on reaching the last
eight of the UEFA Cup. They have now beaten teams from England,
Spain and Germany this season. We don't want to appear
over-confident but the Celts have as much chance of winning this
tournament as any of the rest of the teams left in it. Certainly
they will not be in awe of Liverpool in the quarter-finals.