CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 2003-04 GROUP STAGES GROUP B: OCTOBER 21ST ANDERLECHT 1 (DINDANE 72’) CELTIC 0 NOVEMBER 5TH CELTIC 3 (LARSSON 12’, MILLER 17’, SUTTON 29’) ANDERLECHT 1 (DINDANE 77’)
The Celtic team of 2003-04 could justifiably claim to have a real chance of winning Group B when it was drawn, as the previous season we had reached the UEFA Cup FInal, and with a team containing the likes of Larsson, Sutton, Hartson, Petrov and Thompson we had the players to cause most teams in Europe problems.
The group stage began with a 2-1 loss to Bayern Munich - more on this game in a few weeks time - in a game which we really should have won. The second game was a bravura 2-0 win over French champions Lyon at Celtic Park, featuring two great goals by Liam Miller and Chris Sutton.
We then faced the double header with Belgian Champions Anderlecht, who were probably the weakest team in the group, but still featured the likes of Aruna Dindane, a very young Vincent Kompany and Christian Wilhelmsson. Unfortunately the game in Anderlecht must go down as one of the most disappointing performances by Celtic ever in the Champions League, as we lost 1-0 one to Anderlecht team that were reduced to 10 men for 65 minutes.
Anderlecht’s captain Glen De Boeck was sent off for a second bookable offence after only 25 minutes, but Celtic failed to take advantage of the situation. Although Henrik Larsson might have had a penalty and both he and Sutton came close Andelecht always looked dangerous on the counter and this was proven when a Wilhelmsson cutback was fired home by Dindane in the 72nd minute, and despite frantic Celtic pressure which featured John Hartson missing a good chance the Belgian side held on for the win.
The return game at Celtic Park was vitally important as Celtic needed the three points to keep any aspirations of European Football alive, and we blew Anderlecht away with a whirlwind display of first-half football.
The Celts took the lead in the 11th minute, as a Didier Agathe cross was deftly headed home by Henrik Larsson
the second arrived only six minutes later, Liam Miller getting onto the end of a John Hartson header and thrashing the ball into the net
incredibly enough it was 3-0 in the 29th minute, Chris Sutton smashing home a diving header from close range after a Hartson flick-on.
After such an incredible first-half display Celtic were always going to find it difficult to keep up the momentum, but we were never in danger of losing the game and Anderlecht’s consolation goal arrived in the 75th minute, Dindane scoring the rebound after Hedman had initially saved Mornar’s penalty.
Celtic’s performance in the home game was far more representative of what Martin O’Neill’s team were capable of, as Anderlecht just couldn’t cope with Celtic’s pace and power. The current Celtic side may not be as good as O’Neill’s finest vintage, but let’s hope they give us a similar night to remember in Belgium on Wednesday night.