Can Celtic create opportunities in Europe to go beyond the treble they snatched last year?
The UEFA Champions League, the most prestigious club football competition, is back with
all its glory. And this time fans get to witness the competition in its current format for the final
time. The first matchday saw some thrilling results. While some bigwigs like Manchester City
and Barcelona resumed the regular service with dominant wins, there were some nail-biting
encounters including a rare goalkeeper goal by Napoli’s Ivan Provedel to give them a late
Celtic, the one and only Scottish representatives, come into the tournament with very little
hope of going through to the knockout stages as they have found themselves in arguably the
toughest group. Across the six group stage matches they face Dutch Champions
Feyenoord, Italian Serie A runner-ups Lazio, and Spanish giants Atletico Madrid. The side
from Glasgow had a night to forget in their Champions League opener as they slumped to a
2-0 defeat away at Feyenoord.
Celtic has a rich history in Europe. The era between the late 60s and early 70s is widely
considered the golden age of the club in Europe. The Glaswegian club etched their name in
history by winning the fabled trophy back in 1966–67. This win was historic in multiple
aspects. Celtic gave Scotland the honour of having the first British team to feature in a UEFA
Champions League final. The win also gave them the honour of being the first club ever to
clinch a treble – League title, Cup title and the European trophy. Celtic have snatched eight domestic trebles, including last year after defeating Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup final.
The road to the final in Lisbon began positively for Celtic as they brushed past Swiss side
Zürich and French side Nantes in the first two knockout rounds with relative ease. Their first
uphill battle came against the Serbian (then Yugoslavian) side Vojvodina who beat them in
the first leg of their Quarter Final clash 1-0. This was their only loss in Europe that season as
they came back strong to win the return leg at home 2-0. Celtic then defeated Czechoslovak
side Dukla Prague to seal a final with Inter Milan.
The final was a tense affair with Inter Milan who were coming off the backs of winning the
European titles in 1964 and 65. They were the strong favourites considering they had also
knocked defending champions Real Madrid out in the quarter final. And it showed as they
took the lead within the first 10 minutes through Sandro Mazzola’s penalty. However, the
resolute men of manager Jock Stein pulled off an improbable comeback to win their one and
Only Champions League trophy. Second-half goals from Tommy Gemmell and Stevie
Chalmers etched Celtic’s name into the record books as the side won 2-1.
Since then, Celtic have made it into the Champions League final only once, in the 1969-70
season. But they couldn’t seal the deal as they ironically lost to Feyenoord 2-1. The side has
been dealing with mediocrity ever since, latching on to an odd semi-final appearance as a
glimmer of hope for a return to the old glory. The last time they made it to the semis was in
1974 when Inter Milan avenged their loss and made their way to the final.
Last Wednesday was another episode of disappointing European nights for Celtic fans as
Feyenoord took advantage of Celtic’s slip-ups. Celtic had nobody but themselves to blame
as they found themselves down to nine men in the second half following red cards for Gustaf
Lagerbielke and Odin Thiago Holm.
Calvin Stengs took Joe Hart by surprise as he put Feyenoord ahead with a free kick. Former
Brighton player Alireza Jahanbakhsh completed Celtic’s implosion with a goal in the 76th
minute. The game also saw Feyenoord midfielder Igor Paixão’s penalty saved in one of the
silver linings for Celtic. Otherwise, there was not much for Celtic fans to look at and smile.
Fans will be expecting great improvement from Brendan Rodgers and his team who have
started the Scottish League campaign on a high note. Tough fixtures against Lazio and
Atletico awaits the Scottish side, but bigger upsets have been witnessed in this competition to
make a bold prediction. Having already beaten rivals Rangers in the league, earlier this
season, Celtic would hope to take their domestic form to Europe and at least try to make it to
Europa League if not the knockouts.