Posted on Tuesday, 4th December 2012 by admin
Who remembers August 2007? Neil Lennon was at Nottingham Forest, Rangers were in the Champions League and Tony Watt was 13 years old. And on the 29th of that month Celtic and Spartak Moscow fought out an epic encounter that ended with Celtic qualifying for the Champions League Group Stages and eventually making the last 16.
When the draw was made there was general despondency, as Spartak were the team most people wanted to avoid in the draw, as they were already playing in the Russian league and also played on a plastic pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium. However, these fears were somewhat proved wrong as Celtic managed to get a creditable 1-1 draw in Moscow, with Paul Hartley getting the vital away goal. Mark Brown – who deputised for the injured Artur Boruc – made a string of fine saves. But come the return leg two weeks later, Boruc was back in goal.
The game began with Spartak on the offensive, as they had to score, Boruc doing well to stop Welliton in particular. The match’s first twist game in the 24th minute, when Spartak were awarded a very soft penalty when Gary Caldwell was adjudged to have handled, but justice was done when Pavluchenko’s effort hit the post. Celtic took the lead in the 27th minute, Scott McDonald taking advantage of some poor defending to hammer the ball home.
But another twist came just a minute before half-time, when sloppy defending allowed Pavluchenko to equalize, which sparked a furious argument between Boruc and Naylor. Not surprisingly, the fans backed Boruc. The second-half was played under unbearable tension, with both sides knowing that one mistake could prove fatal. Surprisingly, Shunsuke Nakamura – often a talisman in those times – had a very poor game, guilty of missing three great chances. The game took yet another twist when Spartak’s Martin Stranzl was sent-off for a foul on Vennegoor of Hesselink. Celtic were unable to take advantage, and the game went to extra time when Celtic were handed a golden opportunity to win the game from the penalty spot. Veennegoor’s effort hit the bar and we were headed to penalties.
The penalty shoot-out will go down as one of the most exciting occasions at Celtic Park in recent years, and Artur Boruc was the hero as he made two saves to spark wild scenes of celebration. Boruc was undeniably one of the best goalkeepers in Europe at that point, and it’s a pity that his career has somewhat floundered after he left Celtic for Fiorentina. But performances like the one that night against Spartak mean that he will go down as one of Celtic’s best players in recent years.
As we look forward to tomorrow’s game against Spartak, let’s hope that we see similar scenes of celebration as Celtic book their rightful place in the last 16 of the Champions League.