Celtic, Rangers ensure famous night for Scottish clubs
Joy: Rangers celebrate (pic: SNS Group)
Lazio 1 Celtic 2
Rangers 2 Porto 0
Scottish football’s reputation in Europe was given a real shot in the arm after Celtic and Rangers recorded famous victories.
Neil Lennon’s side qualified from Group E for the last 32 with two games to spare after a stunning win in Rome, while Steven Gerrard’s men boosted their hopes of progressing to the knockout phase with an equally impressive result against a team which made the last eight of the Champions League last season.
Celtic had never before beaten an Italian team in their own country but Oliver Ntcham’s 95th-minute winner consigned that statistic to the dustbin at the 13th time of asking.
The Celts had fallen behind after just seven minutes but James Forrest’s first-half leveller provided the platform for their historic victory.
It’s also the first time the Parkhead side has won three consecutive matches in the Europa League/UEFA Cup since 2002, the year they went all the way to final in Seville under Martin O’Neill.
Lennon and the Celtic fans can now look forward to the knockout phase after Christmas, with the two remaining games, at home to Rennes and away to CFR Cluj, deciding who tops the group.
“I’m so happy and so proud of the team, not just winning the game but the way they played the game and the character and bravery they showed and real quality,” he said.
“This team keeps setting new boundaries for itself. It’s a historic night and the scenes at the end is something that will live with me for ever.
“To come here and be as good as that and to have qualified after four games is unheard of for Celtic in Europe.”
Group G looks like going to the wire, with Rangers in a great position to qualify after their heroics against Porto.
While they had to ride their luck at times at Ibrox, second-half goals from Alfredo Morelos and Steven Davis secured a famous result for the home side, who can now make the knockout phase with victory over Feyenoord in Rotterdam in their next group game.
“To beat a side of Porto’s calibre and the quality of players that they’ve got – the boys deserve all the credit. The second half was fantastic,” said Gerrard.
“In the first half we showed Porto too much respect. We never backed ourselves enough. I think their movement in the opening stages of the game sort of set us back a bit.
“We were a little bit frightened of it, but once we settled we finished the first half quite strong and in the second half we were a totally different team.”