The Troll Children

As we attempt to reach the Champions League group stages for what would be a tenth time, our third qualifying round opponents are a reminder of our very first appearance there.

With the rebrand of the European Cup to the Champions League in the early 90s, our first attempt at reaching the newly introduced group stage came in 1998. Unfortunately, under Dr Jo Venglos, we failed to get past Croatia Zagreb and so we never had the chance. Indeed, we had to wait until 2001 under Martin O’Neill to overcome Ajax and have our first crack at it.

Once there, we were drawn against Juventus, Porto and our next opponents Rosenborg. Indeed, Rosenborg should have been the first team we met there, but global circumstances saw the fixture originally scheduled for September 12th, 2001 moved to October 10th, 2001 instead. That night, an Alan Thompson free kick that went straight through the defensive wall midway through the first half was enough to give us three points.

Three points that actually put us top of the table having come after another 1-0 home win over Porto and of course a 3-2 defeat in our first group stage game away to Juventus. We’ll not dwell too long on the cheating Nicola Amoruso that won the late penalty, this blog isn’t really about them this time.

Unfortunately, while our home form was flawless in that group stage – rounding off our two 1-0 wins with a 4-3 victory over Juventus on the final match day – our away form badly let us down. The 3-2 defeat to Juventus had seen us come from 2-0 down, but that was as good as our form got on the road. A 3-0 hiding away to Porto was followed up by an old friend coming back to haunt us.

Harald Brattbakk.

For most of us, that name will always take us back to May 9th, 1998, and the day we stopped the ten. Henrik Larsson may has opened the scoring early on that day, but it wasn’t until Brattbakk got the second goal with 18 minutes remaining that the nerves calmed and we all truly believed we would indeed be champions for the first time in a decade.

Despite that historic goal, Brattbakk’s time at Celtic wasn’t the best and most of the other memories we have involve him not quite being the star striker we all hoped he would be. Indeed, he probably became more famous for the chances he missed than the chances he scored. But the goal that stopped the ten means he’s still fondly remembered even despite what followed.

Brattbakk left Celtic while John Barnes was in charge, first heading to Copenhagen before returning to the club where he made his name – Rosenborg. So of course when Celtic travelled to Trondheim on October 23rd, 2001, the 2-0 defeat that day came courtesy of two first half goals from our former number nine.

The nine points Celtic achieved from that campaign wasn’t enough to progress to the second group stage, as it was back then, and indeed was the highest points total for a non-qualifying team at that stage. That has since been surpassed by a number of teams including Napoli in 2013/14 who managed to get twelve points and still only finished third in their group. The fact that Gordon Strachan’s Celtic progressed with nine points on two separate occasions a few years later only goes to underline just how unlucky Martin O’Neill’s team were that season.

However, that 2001/02 campaign wasn’t the first time Celtic had met Rosenborg in the European Cup. In what was actually one of Jock Stein’s poorer European campaigns, Celtic met Rosenborg in the first round in 1972/73. The first leg saw Celtic win 2-1 at home, with goals from Lou Macari and Dixie Deans giving Celtic a decent half time lead, only for Bjorn Wirkola to score an away goal to give the visitors hope.

Indeed, Rosenborg took the lead in the tie on away goals when they opened the scoring in the second leg through Jan Christensen. That lead lasted until ten minutes after the break when Lou Macari put Celtic back in front and cancelled out the away goal. The tie was finally killed off in the last ten minutes when Harry Hood put Celtic in front on the night, before Macari got the final goal of the 5-2 aggregate win.

Unfortunately, that was as far as Celtic went that season as Ujpesti Dozsa of Hungary won the second round tie 4-2 on aggregate, thanks mainly to a 3-0 home win in the second leg. In the nine-in-a-row era, only the Dynamo Kyiv first round defeat in 1967/68 saw Celtic go out earlier, though technically the first round defeat to Olympiakos in 1974/75 came courtesy of winning the ninth of those titles.

The only other time Celtic have played Norwegian opposition in Europe was the most recent tie when our own Norwegian manager Ronny Deila faced his countrymen in the shape of champions Molde in the Europa League group stages. Unfortunately, a 2-1 defeat at Celtic Park and a 3-1 defeat in Norway was the result, so that Alan Thompson free kick is the last time we beat Norwegians.

Mind you, Rosenborg have lost to Scottish opposition far more recently. Back in 2013, St Johnstone won 1-0 in Trondheim before drawing 1-1 at McDiarmid Park to win 2-1 on aggregate in the Europa League second qualifying round. That was a Rosenborg team that would finished their 2013 season just one point behind Ronny Deila’s title winning Stromsgodset.

The current Rosenborg team seem to be attempting to lure us into a false sense of security by claiming that we should win this tie comfortably, but that seems unlikely. Although they took extra time to finally see off Dundalk last week, the Norwegian champions are in the middle of their domestic season and current sit five points clear at the top as they attempt to win their third title in a row.

The stand-out name in the Rosenborg team is probably Nicklas Bendtner, the former Arsenal striker who never quite seemed to fit in there. Sounds like Brattbakk and us, and Brattbakk was a great striker for Rosenborg so hopefully that doesn’t match up.

It was Bendtner’s striking partner Yann-Erik de Lanlay that got the equaliser against Dundalk last week, while his replacement as substitute Matthias Vihjalmsson got the eventual winner. Rosenborg’s goal in the first leg came from defender Tore Reginiussen and I’d be kidding myself on if I knew much more about our opposition than this!

However, we have a few issues with availability in key areas of the squad ahead of this game.

With Emilio Izaguirre now away, and all the best to him for the future, our defensive options are even lighter than they were for Linfield. With Cristian Gamboa injured on international duty earlier this month, there’s no real cover for Mikael Lustig, an apparently doubtful Erik Sviatchenko, Jozo Simunovic and now Kieran Tierney. Our best hope is that Anthony Ralston and Kristoffer Ajer can fill in if necessary, and they’re both relatively untested for Celtic at any level, never mind the highest level we face.

And then there’s our troubles up front.

With Leigh Griffiths suspended for the first leg following his scarf antics in Belfast, we’re left with just Moussa Dembele as our only striking option – and depending on which story you wish you believe he’s either struggling with injury or faking it ahead of a move to Marseille on a big money transfer.

So if Griffiths is suspended and Dembele is out, who do we play up front? Bring Nadir Ciftci in from the cold? Unlikely, we’d be more likely to go with Jack Aitchison and it seems a bit early to look to him for such an important game. It’s more likely that we’ll do something similar to what we did last season by playing three wingers. Last season it was James Forrest, Scott Sinclair and Patrick Roberts, so this season Roberts would be replaced by Jonny Hayes. That worked well against Hearts on more than one occasion, but in other games it wasn’t so successful and we had more than one narrow 1-0 victory – often courtesy of a Dedryck Boyata goal, which we clearly can’t count on this time.

This isn’t the greatest position to be in. Not enough defenders, not enough strikers, but an abundance of midfielders – didn’t we have this problem under Ronny Deila? And Neil Lennon for that matter? I was hoping we would have a bit more balance to the squad by now, and while the early indications are that we’ve made some good signings in Olivier Ntcham and Kundai Benyu that will improve the overall squad, there’s still work to be done.

Hopefully the lack of defensive cover, striking options, and our atmosphere generating standing section doesn’t turn out to be a recipe for disaster tonight and what we do have available steps up to fill the voids.

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. zdavid says:

    By God you are certainly in a negative frame of mind, talk about glass half empty.COYBIG

  2. Gerrym says:

    While I can understand the worry over the players missing from this game you’ve got to give youth a chance to shine at the highest level at some point and I believe ajer ncham and benyu are fantastic young talents that will grasp this opportunity if called upon.

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