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3 Times Celtic Have Reached the Knockout Stages of the Champions League

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Celtic’s journey in the UEFA Champions League has not always been smooth sailing. They have had their fair share of ups and downs, and the 2023/24 season encapsulates that perfectly. Despite a disappointing start away at Feyenoord, the Bhoys deserved much more from their next two fixtures.

Firstly, Kyoto Furuhashi gave the Scottish champions an early lead at home to Lazio and the hosts were well in control at Parkhead. But then, Matias Vecino bundled home an equaliser before former Barcelona and Chelsea winger Pedro netted a last-gasp winner against the run of play. To make matters worse, Celtic led twice at home to two-time finalists Atletico Madrid, only for Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata to level things up.

That left the Glaseigians on the brink of elimination, and a 6-0 thumping in the reverse fixture against Los Rojiblancos has all but extinguished any hopes of European football in the new year. While Atleti have been priced at 19/1 by Bovada sportsbook to lift the famous big-eared trophy, Celtic have to instead reminisce at years gone by.

Since UEFA scrapped the second group phase back in 2003, Celtic have only reached the knockout stage of the Champions League on three occasions. With nostalgia in mind, let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember those glorious days.

Most Recent Trip to the Knockouts in 2012/13

Our journey begins in the 2012/13 season when Celtic found themselves in a difficult group comprising of Barcelona, Benfica, and Spartak Moscow. Remember, this was the same Barcelona team that boasted the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta. in their prime But against all odds, the Bhoys pulled off a famous victory against the Catalonians at Celtic Park, thanks to a late winner from academy product Tony Watt as well as a heroic display from goalkeeper, Fraser Forster.

That win was crucial in taking Celtic to the knockout stage. Victories home and away against Spartak also helped the Scots, with a last-minute Giorgios Samaras winner in the Luzhniki being one of the highlights of the entire campaign. Their three victories in total – plus a goalless draw at home to Benfica – helped them amass ten points and that proved enough for them to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition for the first time in half a decade

The knockout stage saw them draw Italian giants Juventus. This wasn’t the dominant Bianconeri side that would blossom in the late 2010s however, they were just starting to become a superpower once more. Late goals from Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic all but ended the tie after the first leg, and Celtic would ultimately succumb to a 5-0 aggregate defeat. They haven’t reached the knockout stages in the decade-plus since.

Five Years Prior

Five years prior, the Boys in Green once again reached the knockout stages. Celtic started strong, winning their first game against Shakhtar Donetsk but then suffered losses in their next two games. However, they bounced back with a win against AC Milan, thanks to goals from Stephen McManus and a 91st-minute winner from Australian striker Scott McDonald. Despite losing all three away games, three victories at home against the aforementioned Milan, as well as Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk were enough to secure the runners-up spot to the Rossoneri.

They would go on to face Barcelona in the knockout stages and surprisingly led 2-1 heading into the second half. There, however, the Blaugrana would flex their muscles, and goals from Thierry Henry and a young Lionel Messi secured a 3-2 victory. Another valiant effort in the Camp Nou saw them lose by a solitary Xavi goal to nil. Ultimately it wasn’t enough, and they were knocked out 4-2 on aggregate.

The First of Consecutive Trips to the Knockout Stage

Last but not least, we come to the 2006/07 season, which was Celtic’s first foray into the Champions League knockout stages under Gordon Strachan. The Bhoys found themselves in a tough group featuring English champions Manchester United, Benfica once more, and Danish outfit FC Copenhagen. Strachan’s men beat Copenhagen and Benfica at Celtic Park and then went on to secure a famous win against Manchester United in the return leg at Old Trafford. Japanese midfielder, Shunsuke Nakamura, was the star of the show, scoring a delicious whipping free-kick that has gone down in the club’s folklore.

The Scots would ultimately finish second in the group, behind the Red Devils, and progress to the knockout stage. there they faced off against 2005 finalists AC Milan and they very nearly knocked off the Rossoneri. A goalless draw at Parkhead meant that it was all to play for in the second leg at the San Siro. Celtic would once more keep the hosts at bay for another 90 minutes. However, in extra time, Brazilian genius Kaka would find a way through, netting the all-important goal three minutes into the extra period.

Celtic were unable to find the leveller that would have taken them through on away goals and ultimately crashed out. Milan meanwhile would go on to win the tournament, defeating Liverpool in the Athens showpiece thanks to a brace from veteran striker Filippo Inzaghi, earning redemption for the miracle of Istanbul two years prior.

Image from: unsplash.com

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