NEVER has a season that ultimately delivered so little offered so much.

Celtic ended the 2002/03 campaign empty-handed after chasing a quadruple for the bulk of it.

Their dreams ended in tatters, with Rangers clinching the league title by a goal difference of just one.

Martin O'Neill's side also lost the League Cup final to Rangers - a final that was sandwiched between the two Uefa Cup quarter-final ties against Liverpool - while an inexperienced Hoops side lost to Inverness Caley Thistle in the Scottish Cup.

Yet, for all that there was nothing tangible to show for their efforts at the end of a momentous campaign, the season was celebrated as a success given the heights the club had scaled in European football.

The road to Seville was fraught with tough opposition - including four memorable games against top English opposition and a former Old firm nemesis.

Ultimately, Celtic firmly stamped their authority on the competition with some high-profile victories and a never-to-be-forgotten campaign.

O'Neill took the club to their first European final for 33 years and the end of that European wilderness was celebrated with gusto by all associated with the club.


September 9, 2002

Celtic 8 FK Suduva 1

October 3, 2002

FK Suduva 0 Celtic 2

THE road to Seville started off in disappointing fashion.

It was Celtic's failure to overcome FC Basel in the Champions League qualifying rounds that meant they were parachuted into the Uefa Cup, something that was initially regarded as a major disappointment given the manner in which the club had graced the competition the previous season.

Celtic's first appearance in the tournament this season was to hammer FK Suduva 10-1 on aggregate and set up the first 'Battle of Britain'.


October 31, 2002

Celtic 1 Blackburn Rovers 0

November 14, 2002

Blackburn Rovers 0 Celtic 2

WITH former Rangers manager Graeme Souness at the helm of the Premiership side, there was added spice when Celtic were paired against the English club.

Martin O'Neill was desperate to prove that his Celtic side were every bit as good as the top half of English football.

But even after a first-leg, scrappy 1-0 win in Glasgow - Henrik Larsson toe-poked one in with just five minutes to go - Blackburn remained cocky and unalarmed.

Blackburn had an impressive array of talent within their ranks - Andy Cole, Damien Duff and Brad Friedel to name but a few. Souness, typically, was happy to ramp up the mind games.

"Men against boys" was how Souness had described the game to his dressing room, according to Blackburn Rovers captain Gary Flitcroft, while the Rovers boss had claimed before the second leg that: "If Celtic score one then we can score three."

But Souness saw his side dismantled. O'Neill's team played out of their skin, out-thinking, out-playing the Premiership men on their own ground.

They progressed with a 3-0 aggregate victory after an early goal from Larsson and a sublime second-half header from Chris Sutton, but it could have been more, so thorough was Celtic's authority.


November 28, 2002

Celtic 1 Celta Vigo 0

December 12, 2002

Celta Vigo 2 Celtic 1

CELTIC went into this game having failed to see off Spanish opposition in Europe on seven previous occasions ... but it was their own 'Magnificent Seven' they were toasting when they sneaked through the tie on the away goals rule.

The first leg would see Henrik Larsson net his 25th goal of the season - in November - in a game that would also see Martin O'Neill sent to the stand.

The Irishman had grown increasingly exasperated with whistler Claude Columbo, who had incensed the Celtic Park crowd with some odd calls.

Larsson could have had a second late in the game to make the cushion a little more comfortable, and Celtic knew they would face a nerve-racking 90 minutes in the return leg in Spain, and so it proved.

The hosts battered Celtic early on with Benni McCarthy giving Bobo Balde the runaround. Vigo scored midway through the opening half and, for large chunks of the game, it looked as though Celtic would be heading out of the tie, so dominant were the hosts.

The Spaniards did go on to win the game on the night - 2-1 - but John Hartson's superb volley from the edge of the penalty area after he had held off his marker allowed the Hoops to progress.

It was a tense, last few minutes, but when the final whistle sounded that night, it was the first time that Celtic had survived in Europe past Christmas for 23 years.


February 20, 2003

Celtic 3 Stuttgart 1

February 27, 2003

Stuttgart 3 Celtic 2

CELTIC went into the game against Felix Magath's side without the talismanic Henrik Larsson, who had suffered a double jaw break in a league game against Livingston, while John Hartson was suspended.

The game was officiated by top whistler Pierluigi Collina, and the Italian had Stuttgart reduced to 10 men when Marcelo Borden was sent off for a professional foul after just 17 minutes.

Despite their numerical advantage, Celtic found themselves a goal down when Kevin Kuranyi headed Stuttgart in front.

However, a gutsy fightback saw the Hoops go into the break in the driving seat after goals from Paul Lambert and Shaun Maloney gave them a 2-1 lead. They added to that in the second period when Stilian Petrov also got his name on the scoresheet.

It was one of Celtic's finest European performances in the modern era but, as a 3-1 win at home against Basel had shown earlier in the season, there was still work to be done in the return leg.

Clearly mindful of the lessons against the Swiss, Celtic roared their way into a quick 2-0 lead through goals from Alan Thompson and Chris Sutton.

The tie looked over and done, but Stuttgart fought back to record a 3-2 win, a result that ensured a nervy finale to the game in the Gottlieb-Daimler Stadium. They prevailed to make their way into the quarter-finals of the tournament and another Battle of Britain, this time against Liverpool.

"We are through and that is all that matters," said a jubilant O'Neill afterwards. "We also deserve to be in the quarter-finals."


March 13, 2003

Celtic 1 Liverpool 1

March 20, 2003

Liverpool 0 Celtic 2

GERRY MARSDEN led 60,000 voices in a rousing chorus of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' before the game to produce an astonishing scene of football unity at Parkhead

But Celtic swiftly gained the upper hand. Henrik Larsson took only 100 seconds to make his mark when he converted Alan Thompson's drive across the six-yard line.

John Hartson also smacked the crossbar and had another effort whizz just over the bar, while Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek would deny Larsson a second after recovering when the striker had got in behind him.

Emile Heskey levelled the tie, but the game was marred by El-Hadji Diouf spitting into the crowd in the late stages.

Celtic headed to Anfield for the return having been written off by most of the English media, yet they produced a mesmerising performance.

Neil Lennon recalls Martin O'Neill giving an inspirational and memorable team talk.

He said: "By the time he had finished we were ready to go out and run through brick walls if we needed to."

Celtic went on the attack immediately. It took until the cusp of the interval before they would get their reward when Thompson found the net with a free-kick.

Hartson would cement Celtic's progress with a stunning strike just nine minutes from time.

"That was the best moment for me in the whole tournament that goal," said Lennon. "You know you are 3-1 up with 10 minutes to go and there is just no way back for Liverpool."


April 10, 2003

Celtic 1 Boavista 1

April 24, 2003

Boavista 0 Celtic 1

BY the time Celtic reached the semi-final of the competition, the recognition of just how good a team they were was beginning to take shape, especially given the scalps they had taken to get there.

However, both legs against Portuguese side Boavista were nervous affairs given that a place in the final was at stake. And Celtic made life far more difficult for themselves than it ever needed to be.

Henrik Larsson was, inevitably, on the scoresheet at Celtic Park but, uncharacteristically, the Swede also missed a penalty, while Joos Valgaeren turned the ball into his own net.

The Portuguese were favourites for the return leg given the fact they had an away goal to their name but, just as they had done throughout the tournament, Celtic reserved their best form for the away tie.

In truth, the game in Porto was a drab, uninviting affair. Boavista knew they only had to see the game out to make it to the final; Celtic knew they had to score but were terrified of conceding.

It was Larsson who would get the crucial, late goal, his arching shot taking a deflection to send Celtic into their first European final for 33 years.

It sparked scenes of intense celebration that night, gave birth to a whole new song book and the hunt for flights and match tickets began. Out came the sombreros and the beachballs; Seville was waiting.

"I doubt if I will ever forget the scenes at Oporto airport after the Boavista game," said O'Neill. "The fans spend a lot of money to cheer us on, behave impeccably, and I can assure you it is appreciated."