Celtic FC in Europe 2012/13

The draw for the Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round will take place on Friday at 11am, with Celtic entering the “Champions section” at this stage.  They will be hoping to make it to the group stage for the first time since their 2008/09 campaign under Gordon Strachan.  Their matches will take place on 31st July/1st August and 7th/8th August.

Celtic will be taking part in Europe for the 18th consecutive season, and their 48th season overall.  Only 12 teams have competed in European competition in more seasons than Celtic.  Rangers (51) are the only Scottish side with more appearances, though that record is likely to be surpassed by Celtic in the next few years.  It will be the Parkhead side’s 27th participation in Europe’s elite competition, a tournament which they famously won in Lisbon in 1967.

There are still a few countries which Celtic have yet to visit on European duty – most notably Sweden, Bulgaria, Turkey, Cyprus & Northern Ireland.  Spanish clubs have provided the opposition most often – 28 times in total.  Their most frequent opponents are AC Milan, Barcelona and Basel, all of whom have faced Celtic on 8 occasions.

The map below shows the countries which Celtic have visited.  Unlike the St Johnstone and Motherwell blogs, I haven’t included the towns/cities they’ve visited due to time constraints (100ish cities is harder than 8 or 9)  – if anyone fancies doing that then let me know and I’ll send you the map! There are a few countries shaded in light green – these  countries have never actually been visited by Celtic but were part of USSR/Yugoslavia when Celtic played there.

The countries Celtic have visited in European competition.


The club have played 270 matches in European competition, winning 125, drawing 51 and losing 94 (this tally includes the actual on-field results for matches against Rapid Vienna and Sion which were later annulled/changed by UEFA).  It will come as no surprise to anyone that the vast majority of their defeats were away, and the vast majority of their wins at home.  Celtic have only lost 17 of their 133 home games in Europe, but have won just 33 out of 131 away from home.  This record has been taken to extremes in recent years, with a formidable home record often cancelled out by abysmal away form.  Henrik Larsson is Celtic’s record European goalscorer – with 34 goals he has scored more than twice as many as any other player.

2012/13 will mark the 50th anniversary of Celtic’s first ever season in Europe.  They took part in the 1962/63 Fairs Cup after finishing 3rd in the previous season’s Scottish First Division, and were drawn against Valencia in the 1st Round.  They travelled to the Mestalla for their first match, and came away with a 4-2 defeat, having trailed 3-0 at half-time.  Bobby Carroll scored both goals, becoming the club’s first ever European goalscorer.  The 2nd leg at Parkhead finished 2-2, meaning the Bhoys crashed to a 6-4 aggregate defeat in their first ever European tie.

The following season saw a more impressive run, this time in the Cup Winners’ Cup.  Basel, Dinamo Zagreb and Slovan Bratislava were dispatched on the way to the semi-final, and a 3-0 win over MTK Budapest at Celtic Park put them within touching distance of the final.  But an amazing turnaround in the 2nd leg (not uncommon in those days) saw Jimmy McGrory’s side lose 4-0 in Hungary to miss out on a chance of their first European trophy.

Two years later, with Celtic now managed by Jock Stein, they lost out at the same stage of the same tournament, having again won at home in the first leg.  Liverpool were beaten 1-0 at Celtic Park, but won 2-0 in a controversial 2nd leg at Anfield, which saw Celtic denied a late goal which would have taken them through to a Hampden final against Borussia Dortmund.  Celtic fans rioted after the final whistle, with cans and bottles raining down from the stand.

The next season, 1966/67, Stein took his side into the European Cup for the first time.  Victories over FC Zurich, Nantes and Vojvodina took Celtic into the semi-final, and this time they managed to hold on to a first-leg lead against Dukla Prague.  After a 3-1 win at Celtic Park, they drew 0-0 in Czechoslovakia to become the first British side to reach the final of Europe’s elite competition.  Stein took his side to Lisbon to face Helenio Herrera’s Internazionale side, famous exponents of the defensive Cattenaccio system.  Despite falling behind to a Sandro Mazzola penalty, Celtic fought back with goals from Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers to win their first, and so far only, European trophy.

Stein’s side were the first side outside of Spain, Portugal and Italy to win the trophy, ending the era of Southern European domination.  Only 1 of the next 17 trophies would go to clubs from one of those nations, but unfortunately Scotland weren’t amongst the winners again – 16 of the next 17 went to clubs from England, West Germany and the Netherlands.  Stein’s achievement was all the more remarkable given that all of his side were born within a 30 mile radius of Celtic Park.  1967 was an annus mirabilis for Scottish football – on top of Celtic’s win, Rangers reached the Cup Winners’ Cup final, and Killie made the semi-final of the Fairs Cup.  That same summer, Scotland recorded their famous 3-2 win over England at Wembley.

Celtic continued to be competitive in the European Cup during the remainder of the “9 in a row” years, regularly reaching the quarter-finals and semi-finals, and making it to another final in 1970.  This time, Stein couldn’t lead them to glory, as they lost 2-1 to Feyenoord in the San Siro, with Ove Kindvall scoring with less than 5 minutes of extra-time remaining.  Future Celtic manager Wim Jansen played in the Feyenoord midfield that night.

The end of the “9 in a row” era led to a huge downturn in fortune in European competition, something that wasn’t properly remedied until the eras of Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan.  Between 1974/75 and 2000/01, Celtic failed to progress through more than two ties in any season, suffering embarrassing defeats to the likes of Wacker Innsbruck, Politehnica Timisoara, Neuchatel Xamax and Croatia/Dinamo Zagreb.

In O’Neill’s 2nd season in charge (2001/02), he took Celtic into the Champions League group stage for the first time, thanks to an impressive 3-1 win away to Ajax.  In the group stagea they were drawn gainst Juventus, Porto and Rosenborg.  Celtic won all 3 home matches, but could only finish 3rd after losing each of their away games – something that they would become used to over the next few years.

The following year, they suffered a disappointing elimination in the Champions League qualifier against Basel, but it would prove to be a blessing in disguise, as they dropped down into the UEFA Cup.  Heavily inspired by 11 goals from Henrik Larsson, they eliminated Suduva, Blackburn, Celta Vigo, Stuttgart, Liverpool and Boavista to reach the final in Seville against Jose Mourinho’s Porto.  Despite a double from Larsson in the final, Porto came out on top, winning 3-2 after extra-time.  Mourinho’s side would go on to win the Champions League the following season.  Celtic were awarded the FIFA Fair Play Awarded for the behaviour of their supporters before, during, and after the final.

O’Neill got his side into the Champions League group stage on two further occasions, but again failed to get them into the knock-out stages.  In 2003/04, they were heading through with 5 minutes to go, before Bobo Balde decided to play basketball in his own box, giving Lyon a penalty and progression.  That led to another UEFA Cup run, with 19 year-old David Marshall turning in a sensational performance in the Nou Camp to eliminate Barcelona in the last 16, before Villarreal eliminated them in the quarter-final.

Gordon Strachan would succeed where O’Neill failed, but only after an ignominous start.  In his first match in charge, they suffered a 5-0 defeat away to Artmedia Bratislava in the 2005/06 Champions League.  Despite a battling display at Celtic Park, they failed to overturn the deficit, winning 4-0 but losing out 5-4 on aggregate.

Strachan would redeem himself the following season, squeezing through a Champions League group containing Manchester United, FC Copenhagen and Benfica, courtesy of 3 home wins.  Again, they lost all of their away matches, but it didn’t matter this time.  Progression was secured with a game to spare after a Shunsuke Nakamura free-kick and an Artur Boruc penalty save secured a 1-0 home win over Man Utd.  They were drawn against AC Milan in the last 16, and turned in two outstanding defensive displays to keep things goalless after 180 minutes, before Kaka broke their hearts in extra-time in the San Siro.

The following season, they again reached the last 16 with 3 home wins and 3 away defeats in the groups – this time against AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk and Benfica.  Barcelona lay in wait in the knock-out stages, and Lionel Messi inspired them to a 3-2 win at Celtic Park, although Celtic led twice thanks to Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Barry Robson.  Xavi scored the only goal in the Nou Camp to see Barcelona comfortably through.

Since then, Celtic have achieved little in Europe.  Strachan’s side failed to make an impact in the group during his last season in charge, and all Tony Mowbray had to show for his short spell in charge was a 2-0 away win against Dynamo Moscow, which was rare and impressive in equal measures.  Neil Lennon has struggled in Europe so far, losing out to Braga and Utrecht in his first season in charge, then failing on the pitch last year against Sion before being reprieved by UEFA.  They gave a better account of themselves in a tough group containing eventual winners Atletico Madrid plus Rennes and Udinese, but ultimately failed to progress, finishing 3rd.

2012/13 Campaign

Celtic are guaranteed two ties in Europe this season – even if they lose in their Champions League qualifier, they will drop down to the Europa League play-off.  They are only two wins away from the Champions League group stage, and they will be seeded in both qualifying rounds.  If they win one of their first two ties in Europe this season, they will be guaranteed a place in the Europa League group stage at least, securing European football until Christmas.

Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round

Matches: 31st July/1st August & 7th/8th August

Celtic will enter the “Champions path”, which means they will face the champions of other smaller leagues.  The draw on Friday will be made before the 2nd Qualifying Round is complete, so UEFA assume that every seeded team will win.  The teams listed below will enter the 3rd Qualifying Round draw.  All of the unseeded opponents will have to navigate their 2nd Qualifying Round tie, so Celtic will not know exactly who they will play until a few days after the draw.

Champions League Play-off

Matches: 21st/22nd August & 28th/29th August

The 10 winners from the previous round will enter the Play-off Round.  This round is drawn after the 3rd Qualifying Round is completed, so the seedings will not be completely known until then.  If Celtic make it through to this round, they will definitely be seeded.  The table below is speculative, and assumes that the 10 seeded sides make it through from the previous round.


About SPLstats
Providing statistics and trivia about Scottish football. Main focus is the Scottish Premiership, but all Scottish football will be covered. Not affiliated to the SPFL.

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