In those same 17 years, Rangers have secured a modest five championships, been liquidated, required to reform and work their way through the divisions, witnessed cup success eluding them for over a decade, and yet have now racked up a total of nine post- Christmas European ties. Events on Thursday night, then, were the bitter rivals’ contrasting fortunes at this stage in continental competition over more recent times in microcosm.
In completing a thrilling 6-4 aggregate success over heavyweights Borussia Dortmund, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men pulled off among their most treasured successes in cross-border skirmishing to earn a last 16 of the Europa League, where they will face the beatable Red Star Belgrade. Just before a pulsating 2-2 draw in Govan began to unfold, in the rung below in the European ladder, Ange Postecoglou’s side slumped to a 2-0 defeat away to little heralded Norwegian champions Bodo/Glimt for a 5-1 aggregate reverse in their Conference League last 16 playoffs. Celtic’s heaviest losing margin in a knock-out tie to a team outside of the big five leagues over their near 60-years of continental participation.
It remains March 2004 that the Parkhead club last recorded a post-Christmas triumph in a European tie; Martin O’Neill’s men ousting no less than Barcelona from the UEFA Cup. In part, the nature of the opponents they have found themselves against in eight post-Christmas knockout European ties since 2005, set against those faced by Rangers in their 16 such occasions , accounts for the huge disparities between the Glasgow rivals. Only in part, though.
In the Champions League last 16 in 2007, 2008 and 2013, there was no shame in Celtic coming up short against, respectively, eventual winners AC Milan, Barcelona and Juventus. The same might be said of Ronny Deila’s men being edged out by Internazionale in the last 32 of the Europa League seven years ago. It is Celtic’s failed efforts thereafter that are a real mixed bag: Europa League last 32 eliminations against Zenit St Petersburg (2018), Valencia (2019) and Copenhagen (2020) preceding their rum showings against, what should be recognised, were a hugely impressive Bodo/Glimt side.
As with Celtic, Rangers have no Champions League triumphs post-Christmas. The outcome of their solitary appearance in the knock-out stages of the tournament was elimination by Villarreal in 2006. Yet, the Ibrox side have had some notable scalps thereafter. Not so with beating Hapoel Tel Aviv before losing to Osasuna in UEFA Cup in 2007, but certainly when they memorably reached the final of that competition a year later, taking out Panathaniakos, Werder Bremen, Sporting Lisbon and Fiorentina before being denied the spoils by Zenit . In the UEFA Cup in 2011, Rangers again prevailed against Sporting before PSV Eindhoven took them out. It was nine years before they were eleven more contesting continental competition into the new year, with Braga overcome in the Europa League before Steven Gerrard’s men lost a Covid-19 delayed tie with Bayer Leverkusen. Last year in the tournament, Rangers enjoyed a goalfest to overcome Antwerp before their infamous exit to Sparta Prague. All eclipsed by their derring-do against Dortmund.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.