Celtic face Valencia on Thursday night in the Europa League round of 32, an exciting prospect for all Celtic fans across the globe.
Back in 2001, Martin O’Neill’s men took the Spanish giants to a penalty shoot-out but failed to progress despite a pulsating night at Paradise. A match I attended myself will go down as one of the most dramatic encounters in Europe for many a year.
Rafael Benitez was the manager of the away side, this was during the time when they were challenging at Europe’s top table and had a whole host of star turns in their ranks. John Carew, Pablo Aimar, Vicente, and Pablo Ayala took to the field that night – but it was Celtic’s talisman who broke the deadlock with a superb finish right on half time – remember him?
One moment I’ll always remember was big John Hartson’s shot in extra time which was superbly saved by Canizares in goal (blonde haired Spanish keeper).
The penalty shoot-out was heartbreaking, as we saw three penalty misses from the home side – Larsson, Petrov and Valgaeren all failing from 12 yards.
Where are Valencia now? Eighth in La Liga, Copa del Rey semi-finalists, and it’s fair to say a very inconsistent team at the moment. Less than ten days ago they were 2-0 up at the Camp Nou before the little wizard from Argentina stepped up to level matters. Yet at the weekend they could only manage a drab 0-0 at home to Real Sociedad at The Mestalla.
Who should we be worried about? Well, this is knockout European football so we should always be wary of who we face. But this team have some special players. Carlos Soler is the midfield maestro, a typical Spanish ballplayer who rarely concedes and has a tremendous array of passing, he has been linked with a summer move to Spurs for £30m. Denis Cheryshev is a really superb player and a huge goal threat from midfield, having scored in the recent fight back in the Copa del Rey semi-final against Real Betis and was a huge success at last years World Cup for the host nation.
A huge support is likely for Thursday night, and no doubt the new disco lights will get the fans of both teams in the mood for another night of thrills and spills at Celtic Park.
Brendan Rodgers record in Europe over the last couple of seasons won’t have Valencia head coach Marcelino in a state of panic, this much is true. Having said that, our start to 2019 has the fans anticipating a very tasty match and an upset – as it would have to be if Celtic won this match.
Times have changed since 2001, we don’t have the greatest striker to have ever played the game (in many biased Celtic fans opinion) and we don’t have the likes of Sutton, Hartson, Petrov etc. In the way that Brendan runs his team and how we play, there is no ‘superstar’ in our team but more so the team is the star. The likes of McGregor, Christie, Forrest have now developed into strong players and will not really be viewed by our rivals as well known – perhaps this is our advantage?
As with all top Spanish sides, this team are a very good cup outfit and we must be very aware of this before kick off on Thursday at 8pm.
I can’t wait – and maybe we can exorcise the demons from 2001. Bring it on.