For a team playing in a small country like Scotland, Celtic have sometimes exceeded their weight in European competition. The Hoops reached the former European Cup final twice in the late 1960s and early 1970s, of course winning the final in 1967.
After that, Celtic struggled to match those remarkable achievements, and it wasn’t until 2003 that the club reached a third European final, at a time Celtic fans will surely remember forever.
Celtic’s road to the 2003 UEFA Cup semi-final was not the easiest. The Hoops memorable faced two England teams, Blackburn and Liverpool, and defeated both.
In between was a difficult tie against Celta Vigo and a tie against German team Stuttgart. Martin O’Neill’s team managed to navigate all of these matches to reach the last four of the tournament where they would face Portuguese team Boavista.
Celtic likely entered the game as favorites as Boavista lacked name recognition for the English, Spanish and German sides they have faced before. But the Hoops found the first leg at Celtic Park difficult.
The Portuguese side took the lead with a home goal from Joos Valgaeren, and although Henrik Larsson equalized, he also missed a penalty as the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
Following the draw in the first leg, Celtic knew they had to score in Portugal for any chance of qualifying for a first European Cup final in 33 years, and luckily there was a man on the land that was more than capable. to do that.
Henrik Larsson was already a Celtic greats before the game against Boavista, but his performance in the semi-final second leg helped make him a legend.
The Hoops struggled to break Boavista in the game, and as the minutes passed it looked like the game was going to end scoreless, and the Bhoys would be knocked out of the tournament one step away from the final. But Larsson had other ideas.
In the 78th minute of the game, Larsson tried to play with John Hartson. However, the pass was blocked and found its way back to the striker, who took advantage of the stroke of luck and rolled the ball into the back of the net, just out of reach of the goalkeeper, who did could only parry the ball in the back of the net.
The goal sparked scenes of frenzied celebrations from Celtic players, coaching staff and fans around the stadium, and was undoubtedly replicated by those watching the game at home. The Hoops managed to hold out for the remaining minutes of the game and reach the tournament final, where Porto would be waiting for them.
Larsson’s goal summed up all that was good about the player. He kept his cool in a pressure situation and managed to find the strength to put enough power into the shot, despite the pressure, that the goalkeeper couldn’t stop him.
It has to be considered one of Larsson’s best Celtic goals, just for what it meant. His performance in the UEFA Cup final against Porto was just as good for different reasons, but that’s a story for another day …