CELTIC won one of their most famous victories on the Continent here in Amsterdam tonight when they eliminated Johann Cruyff and the Dutch champions Ajax from the European Cup.
Ajax 1, Celtic 2 (agg 3-4) The Scotsman, 30 September 1982
Inspired goals by Charlie Nicholas and substitute George McCluskey put Celtic into the second round of the competition in which they were thought to have little chance after drawing the first leg 2-2 in Glasgow.
However in a night of considerable passion and much good football played before 62,000 in a shell-shocked Olympic stadium, Celtic’s young side gave the showing of their lives. They effectively subdued the threat of Olsen, Kieft, Lerby thereby allowing themselves a foothold on a match which produced a pay-off just 60 seconds from time.
Billy McNeill’s tactics were exemplary. He used McGrain to douse Olsen – at one point the captain was booked for a series of fouls on the Dane – and Sinclair made the best of a thankless task in trying to keep Cruyff quiet. Perhaps he didn’t succeed entirely, but there is no doubt Ajax found Celtic a much tougher proposition in Amsterdam than they had done in Glasgow.
The game turned in the closing 15 minutes when McNeill gambled on a series of tactical switches in search of the winner. Charlie Nicholas had given Celtic a first-half lead and Gerald Vanenburg had equalised for Ajax midway through the second half – and as things stood at 1-1 Ajax were through.
But Celtic had other ideas about how the tie could go and they put on George McCluskey for Davie Provan in the 72nd minute and six minutes later Moyes replaced McStay, thus allowing Roy Aitken to move forward into a midfield position.
The Scottish champions came within an inch of grabbing the winner in the 83rd minute when Sinclair’s run and cross encouraged McGarvey to contribute a header that beat Schrijvers but hit the woodwork, much to Celtic’s frustration.
Celtic might have been tempted to throw in the towel at that point. But they kept plugging away and they fashioned a goal fit to win any game just 60 seconds from time.
A constructive move was built along the edge of the box before Nicholas put McCluskey racing in on the far left. The substitute kept his cool admirably, weighed up the angle and scored the decisive goal of the tie with a measured left-foot shot that swept into the net at the goalkeeper’s far post.
The full house in the Olympic stadium could not believe it. Only the 3,000 or so Celtic supporters in the ground could be heard in full cry as the Celtic bench celebrated an astonishing win on the final whistle.
If things finished marvellously for Celtic, they hadn’t begun badly either. As early as the third minute Nicholas had troubled the Dutch cover by creeping in on the blind side of defenders. He was unfortunate not to score early on when Molby misread a situation in the box and Schrijvers had to make a brave diving save.
The influence of Roy Aitken early on at the back was considerable. With McAdam playing well and McGrain getting to grips with Olsen, Celtic were able to play much more controlled football than had been seen in Glasgow.
They deservedly took the lead in the 33rd minute with a goal every bit as inspired as anything Ajax had managed a fortnight ago. The move was begun by McStay with a breathtaking pass from deep in his own half to Sinclair running free on the left.
He lost the ball but Nicholas latched on to it, played a clever one-two with McStay, who had made a tremendous amount of ground, and then finished the whole thing off with the crispest and neatest of finishes.
That was an important breakthrough for Celtic and they kept things tight in the back to go in at half-time a goal up and deservedly so.
Still, it only took one goal to put Celtic out at this point and as Ajax raised the pace of their game they came desperately close to scoring on numerous occasions in the second half.
However, goalkeeper Pat Bonner, who was terrific throughout, made at least two extraordinary saves early on in the second period. First of all he turned a Cruyff free kick round the post and secondly he made an awesome leap to push away a Kieft header.
Even at that Ajax’s pressure was unrelenting. They had the goal they wanted when Vanenburg was allowed too much latitude in the box and he took full advantage by striking a clever shot with the outside of his boot that gave Bonner no chance.
And so the game moved into that climactic final spell when the normal pattern of a European away leg was turned on its head. Celtic, with McCluskey on for Provan and Aitken driving from midfield, worked their way towards that splendid 89th-minute winner.
It was the stuff of happy dreams and 30 minutes after the final whistle Billy McNeill had to accompany his players to salute the thousands of Celtic supporters in the stadium to hail their heroes. For them, and Celtic, it was an unforgettable night.
Ajax: Schrivers, Van Veen, Ophot, Boevo, Molby, Cruyff, Lerby, Vannenburg, Schoemaker, Kieft, Olsen.
Celtic: Bonner, McGrain, Aitken, McAdam, Reid, Provan, Sinclair, McStay, MacLeod, Nicholas, McGarvey. Subs: Latchford, McCluskey, Crainie, Sullivan, Moyes.
Referee: Luigi Agnolin (Italy).