Chris Gallagher details Celtic’s draw for the 2013/14 Champions League group stages.
The draw for the UEFA Champions League group stages was made last night in Monaco with Celtic finding out who they will face in the next chapter of their recent European adventures. After overcoming three qualifying rounds, defeating Cliftonville of Northern Ireland, Elfsborg of Sweden and Shakhter Karagandy of Kazakhstan, the Hoops are just happy to have made it to the group stage and the financial windfall that brings.
The 3-0 second leg defeat of Karagandy on Wednesday night, over turning a 2-0 first leg deficit, was one of the greatest night’s in Neil Lennon’s managerial career. In a nerve filled Celtic Park, the team produced a gutsy display as a 92nd minute goal from James Forrest sealed their passage to Europe’s elite competition. The northern Irishman was overjoyed,
“It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done in football. We came into this with no real help, which makes it even more remarkable what we have achieved tonight.”
Superb individual performances from Samaras, Lustig, Stokes and Ambrose was the key to defeating the Kazakhs but it’s clear that replacements for Wilson, Wanyama and Hooper are required. Israeli midfielder Nir Biton and Finnish striker Teemu Pukki look to be heading to Parkhead but will other reinforcements arrive? Only time will tell.
The draw sees Celtic up against familiar opposition, with Barcelona coming from Pot 1, AC Milan coming from Pot 2 and Ajax coming from Pot 3. Incredibly, the drawing of Barcelona brought with it a certain amount of disappointment within the Celtic support, as the Catalan giants were in the Glasgow club’s group last year. It’s understandable that there would be a bit of frustration but the opportunity to play against one of the world’s greatest clubs should not be frowned at.
AC Milan are a club that Celtic know all too well from recent history and again are one of the world’s great footballing institutions. The opportunity to see Mario Balotelli at Celtic Park will be the main focus from the media but don’t be fooled, the Rossoneri are more than a one man team and will be out to prove that at Parkhead.
Group H is completed by another European powerhouse, as Ajax complete the ‘Former European Champions’ group. The Amsterdam club are on the verge of selling their best player, Christian Eriksen, but still have an exciting group of players who qualified for the Europa League from last season’s Champions League group of death.
Celtic taking on Barcelona has become a regular fixture in European football, similarly to Barcelona taking on AC Milan. Celtic have faced the Catalan giants 8 times in the last decade with Celtic having a good record. In those matches, the Glasgow club have won twice, Barcelona have won twice and there have been four draws. They last met in last year’s competition, where Tony Watt’s goal sealed a famous victory against the Spanish champions.
A great football club with a great tradition. The Italians coming to Celtic Park will be nothing new, as the Hoops played Juventus last season in the last 16 knockout stage. The match against the Italian Champions last season showed a huge gulf in class between the two sides but the games against Milan will be different, as the ‘Red and Blacks’ are still in transition and had to go through the Champions League qualifiers to make the group stage. The are packed full of quality but Celtic will fancy their chances in Glasgow.
Celtic haven’t played Ajax nearly as much as their other two opponents in group H but the Amsterdam club are a key part of Celtic’s recent European history. In 2001/02 the Hoops defeated a highly talented Ajax team to qualify for the Champions League group stage for the first time ever. A return to the Amsterdam Arena will see Celtic visit a stadium that is an important part of their recent history.
The order of fixtures is key to any Champions League campaign and Celtic find themselves with a tricky start to the Group. AC Milan away will prove to be a difficult start, as Neil Lennon will be keen to get points on the board as soon as possible. It doesn’t get any easier as Barcelona then visit the Scottish Champions, with no doubt a point to prove after last seasons defeat. The back to back games against Ajax will go a long way to decide Celtic’s fate and the home match against AC Milan will see Celtic Park rocking.
The Hoops finish the group stages at the Nou Camp in December and with Barcelona potentially already qualified, it could be a merry Christmas for the Scottish Champions.