Europe is a funny place these days. Once upon a time, when you were knocked out of Europe that was you for the season. You went back to domestic competition and aimed to return to Europe the following season.
But these days you get more than one crack at it. The Champions League has more parachutes than the Coldplay section of HMV.
Which leads us to some strange quirks, like Celtic’s Europa League group. For one thing, there are no fewer than three champions in this group. Only one Champions League group of the eight can claim to match that, the groups in both competitions have less.
And then there’s the fact that Celtic have played Rosenborg in Europe already!
Before AEK Athens knocked us out, we knocked Rosenborg out. Our parachute took us to a tie with Suduva which we won comfortably. Rosenborg’s parachute had them beating Irish champions Cork City 5-0 on aggregate as we were losing to AEK, while champions of Macedonia, Shkendija, were beaten 5-1 on aggregate.
So they recovered from their disappointing 3-1 aggregate defeat by us well then.
That aggregate scoreline saw all the goals scored at Celtic Park, Birger Meling giving the visitors and early lead before Odsonne Edouard levelled just before half time. We then battered their goal and maybe could have had more than just Olivier Ntcham’s early second half goal and Edouard’s second fifteen minutes from time.
More of the same tonight would definitely be welcome, and should we do that then we’ll do something no Celtic team has managed before.
To win an opening group match in Europe.
Our first ever group match saw Martin O’Neill’s Celtic lose controversially 3-2 to Juventus in 2001. Two years later, Bayern Munich came from behind to win 2-1 at home. In 2004, a 3-1 defeat at home to Barcelona came late on after we had levelled the game and looked like we might get a draw… until they cheated and sent on the King of Kings to create one and score one. Using your own hero against you, how cruel.
In 2006, it was four defeats out of four as Manchester United won 3-2, while 2007 saw us lose 2-0 away to Shakhtar Donetsk. Gordon Strachan’s men finally ended the run of opening defeats with a 0-0 draw at home to Aalborg, but no one was particularly inspired by that in a game we should have won.
Tony Mowbray was in charge the first time we played a Europa League group match in 2009, but that was a 2-1 defeat away to Hapoel Tel-Aviv. Neil Lennon’s side in 2011 got a reprieve as Sion used players they weren’t allowed to sign, but as the draw had already been made by the time we replaced them we found ourselves in a trickier than usual group and lost out opener 2-0 away to Atletico Madrid.
Our best ever group performance came in 2012, but even that started with a 0-0 home draw against Benfica. That plus the two wins against Spartak Moscow and victory over Barcelona made up our ten point haul. The following year saw us lose two late goals in Milan to see AC win 2-0.
Ronny Deila’s opening Europa League group match saw us face another of our opponents in this season’s group in Red Bull Salzburg, but the trip to Austria only saw us earn a 2-2 draw having led but been pegged back twice. It was a very similar 2-2 the following year when we played away to Ajax.
Then of course we come to Brendan Rodgers. If it’s been bad reading so far, you might want to skip this part. It’s a 7-0 defeat away to Barcelona and a 5-0 home defeat to Paris Saint-Germain. Both of which are record away and home defeats in Europe respectively.
It’s not a pretty record, is it? Four draws, nine defeats. But there is one interesting caveat in all of this, and it dates back right to the beginning.
The defeat away to Juventus was not how our Champions League group should have started. Originally, we had been due to start that group as we are scheduled to start this one – a home game against Rosenborg.
But that game was scheduled for September 12th, 2001. Events elsewhere in the world put football on hold and our match was postponed to October 10th.
But we did win that game, 1-0 thanks to and Alan Thompson strike.
So maybe today is the day we finally set the record straight. Seventeen years later, we can finally open a group with a win over Rosenborg. We know we’re capable of it, we beat them 3-1 already at Celtic Park. It may not have been great for us since that game, with a few dodgy results coming against AEK, Hearts and St Mirren since then, but tonight is a chance to get things going right again.
Deja vu would be more than welcome in that case.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)