A lot of people may feel that this is one of the more one-sided of the last-sixteen ties in this season’s Champions League but statistics suggest that Celtic could well cause an upset. Celtic fear no-one at Celtic Park and Barça have only beaten Celtic once in three meetings at Camp Nou, and that was in November 1964 when Barça won 3-1 in the second round first leg of the Fairs Cup. The last two visits were in 2004 and Celtic managed to draw both times.
The teams were drawn together in the last sixteen of the 2003/4 UEFA Cup. The first game at Celtic Park went ahead on the same day as the horrific terrorist bomb attack in Madrid. Celtic keeper Robert Douglas and Barça midfielder Thiago Motta were sent off at half time for an incident in the tunnel and Javier Saviola saw red early in the second half for kicking Celtic’s Alan Thompson. The only goal of the game was scored by Thompson soon after.
The second leg at Camp Nou was memorable for a heroic display by teenage goalkeeper David Marshall who played due to Douglas being suspended. Marshall stopped everything that Ronaldinho, Luis Enrique, Xavi and co threw at him, earning Celtic a 0-0 draw and a place in the quarter finals.
The teams met again the following autumn when they met in Group F of the 2004/5 Champions League. Barça were much improved on the previous season with new signings Deco, Giuly and Eto’o in the team. In the first meeting at Celtic Park Barça turned in a stylish display to win 1-3 and end Celtic’s unbeaten home record in the Champions League. Deco, Giuly and Henrik Larsson, who returned to play his ex-team, scored for Barça while Chris Sutton got Celtic’s goal.
In the return game Samuel Eto’o put Barça in front after 25 minutes but John Hartson turned in a Stilian Petrov free kick for an equalizer just before half time that stunned the Camp Nou faithful. A dogged second half defensive display earned Celtic a 1-1 draw.
Things have changed a lot at Celtic since then, Martin O’Neill has moved on to Aston Villa and Gordan Strachan has brought in many new faces, so the team that starts against Barça on February 20 will be be completely different to the side that last faced the Catalans. Aiden McGeady sat on the bench at Camp Nou but was not used.
Celtic, of course, very nearly went out of this season’s Champions League in the qualifying stages, needing a nail-biting penalty shoot out to get past Spartak Moscow back in August. In the Group stage they proved how strong they are at Celtic Park winning all three games including the memorable 2-1 victory over current champions AC Milan. However, on their travels they suffered, losing at Shakhtar, Benfica and Milan without scoring a goal.
Celtic’s league form has not been great and they are currently four points behind rivals Rangers. Their defence was struggling away from home and they failed to keep a clean sheet on their travels until a 0-2 win at Dundee Utd in December. The recent signing from Sevilla of German right back Andreas Hinkel has helped to improve things and Celtic have conceded only two goals in their last seven matches.
Celtic will definitely miss young midfield sensation Scott Brown who is suspended for the first game, but they will be looking to Japanese star Shunsuke Nakamura to produce another moment of magic like the goal he scored to beat Man Utd last season. Up front Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Scott McDonald will be looking to test Victor Valdés and hoping he has one of his off days.
Barça’s defensive frailties have not been so evident this season. New signings Gabi Milito, Eric Abidal and Toure Yaya have all fitted in well to give Barça a more solid look and they have only conceded 18 goals in 29 matches in La Liga and Champions League. Victor Valdés is proving his critics wrong, keeping four clean sheets in five starts in the group stage.
It is going forward that Barça are having more problems. The four big stars, Messi, Henry, Eto’o and Ronaldinho have all suffered injuries which has meant a lot of chances for teenagers Giovani dos Santos and Bojan Krkic. Henry has struggled to find his form while Ronaldinho has been plagued by niggling injuries as well as suffering a drop in confidence that has seen many fans calling for his head. Barça’s lack of goals is the main reason they find themselves eight points adrift of Real Madrid in the Spanish league. However, if Eto’o and Messi can steer clear of injuries they will certainly be a massive threat to the Celtic defence.
Of course Barça should get through the tie, having the second game at home should prove a big advantage even if Celtic surprise them in the first game. However, a repeat of the 2003/4 UEFA Cup tie is not an impossibility, and the odds being offered by William Hill of 11/2 for Celtic to get through look quite tempting.
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Nicholas Aldam writes on the FC Barcelona blog.
Go back to the full 16-team 2007/2008 UEFA Champions League 2nd Round Preview on Soccerlens.