Celtic v Ajax: previous meetings

AJAX’S visit to Parkhead this evening continues a long-running rivalry between two clubs with a rich European history, stretching back to the 1970-71 season when the famous Dutch side won their European Cup quarter-final against past winners Celtic on their way to lifting the trophy for the first time at Wembley.

The great Johan Cruyff, who played in ties at Celtic Park in 1971 and 1982. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The great Johan Cruyff, who played in ties at Celtic Park in 1971 and 1982. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In an online exclusive, we delve into The Scotsman’s archives to bring you the match reports of the three previous competitive matches that Celtic have hosted Ajax in European competition, including that memorable 1971 tie, when a young Johann Cruyff and his team-mates visited the east end of Glasgow.

Cruyff, 11 years older and in his second spell with Ajax after playing for Barcelona and in America, returned to Celtic Park with the Dutch side when they met again in 1982, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic was among the substitutes when the clubs clashed again in 2001 - a match which sealed Celtic’s progress into the group stages of the Champions League under Martin O’Neill.

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The three matches at Celtic Park were watched by a combined total of almost 200,000 fans. When Celtic travel to face Ajax on Wednesday, 6 November for their return Champions League fixture, we will repeat the exercise and bring you the three match reports from the Scots’ ties in the Netherlands. For now, as we look forward to tonight’s game, enjoy the accounts from 1971, 1982 and 2001 from football writers John Rafferty, Mike Aitken and Glenn Gibbons respectively.

The Scotsman, 25 March 1971

European Cup quarter-final, second leg

Celtic 1 Ajax 0 (aggregate: 1-3)

By John Rafferty

CELTIC were unable to recapture the running, the flair and the rhythm of their more glorious days and so at Hampden Park last night they were eliminated from the European Cup by a team of fine competence and technique which could not be stampeded into disorder.

Celtic had a flat-out go at eliminating the three goals they were behind and had a start they scarcely dared hope for when Johnstone scored in the 27th minute. But although they put the Dutch defence under sustained pressure they could not break it.

On another day they might have bur they were unable to spread the pressure. Johnstone did all that could be expected of anyone on the right but on the other wing the clumsy Hughes never got going. From his side there was no threat.

The result was that the centre of the Dutch defence was able to stay settled and turn away the predictable play through the middle. Latterly, Celtic’s early hope was in a Dutch mistake. They were never harried into one.

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Had Celtic had a player like the slithery Cruyff it might have been so different. But what was clear through it all was that the Dutch champions are worthy representatives of the country whose football ranks highest in Europe. One would not be reckless in tipping them to take the trophy to Holland for the second successive year.

The fact had to be faced last night that this Celtic have gone as a European force. The heart was there but there were too many dull, predictable players. That did not used to be the Celtic’s way.

It was just never on for them to cut back those goals and on the night Ajax were put under pressure and pushed back until only Cruyff was left forward. Ten men were crushed into the Dutch penalty area. the danger of such massive attacking was seen when Suurbier broke away and Williams smothered his shot. Then when Kelzer raced clear Brogan was at full stretch to catch him.

But these were isolated bursts, and around them Celtic forced a long string of corners which went for nothing, for there was no space in the penalty area.

Johnstone showed he was in the mood by some typical trips down the right. Auld brought good sense to bear in his distribution but one shuddered at the hefty tackling of Brogan.

Waves of attack

And so the game settled to a hard, punishing battle. Waves of attack rumbled at the defensive wall and then in the 27th minute the crowded terracings exploded to hail a Celtic goal.

Yet another free kick was placed into the goalmouth and headed out. Callaghan quickly returned the ball and Johnstone went scurrying among defenders legs and forced the ball into the net.

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Celtic needed but two now and went chasing them. They raced up the right, charged through the middle and Ajax were rushed into oblivion.

Yet all the time there was the need for caution as Cruyff and Keizer lurked. Twice there were gasps of apprehension as Ajax broke and just on half-time Williams had to rush out and save desperately when Suurbier was through. Such formidable attacking had its dangers and Celtic went into the interval shaken by a shot from Muhren which struck a post.

The first thrill of the second-half assault was a free-kick cunningly placed by Auld, which beat the goalkeeper and the defence but curled outside a post.

Soon it was clear that the sturdy Krol, Johnstone’s marker, was in trouble. He showed this by conceding free kicks as he held and obstructed the little man, who was in great form.

Had Celtic been able to establish such pressure on the left through Hughes, Ajax would have been in even more trouble. But all the time there was the lurking Cruyff racing away with the clearances. Every run was a threat and some were stopped desperately.

And time sped on. Still the screw stayed on the Dutch but with no sign of breaking them. After an hour Stein made his change to break the stalemate. He substituted Lennox for Auld, no doubt considering that, at that stage, speed was to be preferred to cunning.

The minutes sped away and the crowd became hushed as Celtic began to run out of time. Davidson came on for Wallace and there was a monotony about the play as the ball was pumped into the Dutch goalmouth and knocked out again by a defence that covered brilliantly.

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There was a yell when McNeill headed and seemed to be scoring but Stuy saved spectacularly. One sensed that that was Celtic’s last chance. Ajax seemed to sense it too and became more adventurous - and more dangerous.

The crowd was 83,684.

Celtic: Williams, Hay, Gemmell, Callaghan, McNeill, Brogan, Johnstone, Hood, Wallace, Auld, Hughes.

Ajax: Stuy, Asevic, Suurbier, Hulshoof, Krol, Rijnders, Neeskens, Blankenburg, Muhren, Cruyff, Keizer.

Referee: C Lo Bello (Italy)

The Scotsman

European Cup, first round

Celtic 2 Ajax 2 (aggregate 4-3)

By Mike Aitken

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Celtic’s tenure in the European Cup this season threatens to be a brief but memorable one after this epic first round, first leg tie against Ajax at Parkhead last night.

Before an enthralled gate of just under 57,000, the champions of Holland and Scotland shared four goals in a match which had just about everything going for it except accomplished defence.

If Celtic had been concerned about Johann Cruyff’s reputation before the match, they finished it knowing all about a new European star - the young Danish internationalist, Jesper Olsen. He scored one Ajax goal, made the other and generally had Celtic’s defence on toast whenever he made a forward move. Slight of build and fleet of foot, Olsen was a revelation - the quickest and most able player afield.

When he was not babbling to the referee - which was most of the time, unfortunately, and earned him a booking - Cruyff indicated that at 35 he still has genuine class in his play. His most notable contribution came in the second half when a double shuffle inside Celtic’s box topped off by outstanding acceleration almost cost Celtic a goal when younger men were posted missing.

Soren Lerby, another Danish internationalist, was Ajax’s other most influential player in midfield. He got through a power of work, used the ball astutely and made life very difficult for Celtic’s trio in midfield.

Although Charlie Nicholas played splendidly in attack, scoring once from the spot, having another goal chalked off narrowly for offside and setting up numerous chances for others, Celtic were short on ideas up front. I thought they missed George McCluskey, who at his best would have exposed an Ajax defence who were at sixes and sevens throughout most of the first half. McGarvey scored once but had the opportunities for a hat-trick.

Ajax’s defensive uncertainty suggested that the second leg in a fortnight’s time could be equally competitive. Celtic are not out of this one yet but they will have to get much more out of Provan and Burns, two key players who frankly were a disappointment on the night. While Roy Aitken will tighten up Celtic’s defence, it has to be remembered that the Dutch will expect to call on goalkeeper Schrivers, defender Rijkaard and attacker Keift for the second leg.

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The drama began even before a ball was kicked when Schrivers, the first-choice goalkeeper was ruled out at the last minute. He was replaced by Galje, an Under-21 cap.

The young goalkeeper saw action quickly as Celtic forged a chance in the very first minute when McGarvey was put through by MacLeod. He saved a weak shot well and amazingly just 60 seconds later McGarvey made a similar hash of an opportunity created by McAdam which left only the inexperienced goalkeeper to beat.

Sizzling pace

After MacLeod had been heavily fouled and a missile was thrown on to the pitch, Celtic found themselves a goal down. It came from a Cruyff throw to Olsen who tucked a brilliant left foot shot past Bonner.

The 20-year-old Olsen was showing himself to be an attacker of outstanding merit, bewildering the right side of Celtic’s defence and forging numerous scoring opportunities.

In a first half of sizzling pace and great excitement, Provan was the next to go close with a marvellous 30-yard free kick. Galje again acquitted himself well with a fingertip save but he had no chance when Celtic equalised in the 15th minute. Oddly enough it was Cruyff who gave away a most unprofessional penalty when he upended Burns inside the box and Nicholas cracked a rising shot into the net.

Having got back on level terms, Celtic could hardly believe they were a goal behind once more just three minutes later. A superb Dutch move was begun once again by Olsen with a cross from the left which was killed beautifully by Cruyff before the chance was set up for Soren Lervy, another Danish internationalist, to score smoothly.

Ajax became more physical in their approach as Celtic went to the task of retrieving the deficit and Molenaar was the first player to be booked for a foul on McLeod.

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Nicholas was a shade unfortunate to have a neat finish ruled offside in the 24th minute but Celtic were on equal terms just four minutes later. Again Ajax’s ponderous defence were caught square by a long through ball, this time from Moyes. McGarvey was looking at his third clear cut chance of the night and this time he got things right with a hard low shot underneath the goalkeeper.

There was no more scoring before the interval and remarkably it was this attack-minded Ajax side who looked the likelier to score again. Olsen, unquestionably the best player on the field in the first half, made an opening for Schoenaker, which the Dutch internationalist really should have put away and he tested Bonner himself with a marvellous inswinging effort that the Celtic goalkeeper did well to touch out.

A thrilling encounter threatened to boil over at the start of the second half due in the main to weak refereeing. The Swede, Fredriksson, made a number of bad decisions early on, the worst of which was allowing Ophoff to receive attention for an inordinate length of time with what appeared to be the entire Ajax dugout on the field.

Nicholas remained Celtic’s most imaginative attacker and he was unlucky not to set up a goal on two separate occasions. In the 48th minute his fierce shot was lost by Galje and McGarvey latched on to it only to be informed wrongly, in my view, that he fouled the goalkeeper. Then the impish forward made space beautifully on the left in the 56th minute, cutting inside for Provan to make a poor job of the finish.

Unfortunately there was too much emphasis on the physical side of things from Ajax in this period and it was no surprise when Schoenaker was the second Dutchman to be shown a yellow card. Cruyff, who had proved to be a bit of a bore by persistently lecturing the referee, was then booked himself for talking out of turn once too often.

Attendance: 56,299

Celtic: Bonner, McGrain, Reid, Moyes, McAdam, McLeod, Provan, McStay, McGarvey, Burns, Nicholas. Subs: Latchford, Sinclair, Sullivan, McCluskey, Crainie.

Ajax: Galje, Molenaar, Van Veen, Molby, Boeve, Schoenaker, Ophof, Cruyff, Lerby, Olsen, Vanenburg. Subs: Silooy, Van Basten, Godee, Van Schip.

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Referee: Erik Fredriksson (Swe)

The Scotsman 23 Aug 2001

Champions League, third qualifying round

Celtic 0, Ajax 1 (Aggregate 3-2)

By Glenn Gibbons

CELTIC’S entry to the first group phase of the Champions League was much more expected than the comprehensive beating they had to endure to get there.

Outplayed for virtually the entire 90 minutes at Parkhead last night, Martin O’Neill’s side ended this pulsating game fortunate not have lost by a wider, potentially more embarrassing, margin than the first-half goal from the Brazilian, Wamberto.

If there are such things as dangerous side-effects from a 3-1 victory in Amsterdam, they come in the form of a dilemma over how to approach the home leg and the need to atone by opponents who have been so badly treated that they are likely to react like wounded bears.

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For long periods of this extraordinary match, Celtic appeared to be the victims of both afflictions simultaneously, looking for much of the time as though they were walking on egg shells as the Dutch, by and large, outplayed them with fluent and committed football.

By the time Wamberto gave the visitors the lead, there was no question that they had been, for all but a short time of the preceding 30 minutes, the more willing and accomplished side. Indeed, had it not been for a terrific piece of work by Robert Douglas, they would have been behind nine minutes earlier.

It was then that the Scottish champions’ general slovenliness in midfield and attack worked its way back into the defence, when a group of them hesitated without cause as the ball was played towards the penalty area. They may have assumed it would run through to Douglas, but that was a dreadful miscalculation.

Wamberto simply ran past them and beat Douglas in the race, but the big goalkeeper had seen the problem early enough to be in a position from which to block the Brazilian’s low shot, the ball spinning away for the next in a series of corner kicks gained by Ajax.

Wamberto, like his team, thoroughly deserved the goal he did deliver, this time setting off on a solo run from close to the centre circle which took him unhindered through some weak challenges and into the area, where he chipped the ball past Douglas from 12 yards. It was a piece of penetrative skirmishing of which Celtic had, by then, not seemed remotely capable.

Instead, a team which has become known for its ability to cover ground in all departments, making it difficult for opposing midfielders and forwards to operate and defenders to resist, mostly looked to be outpaced in thought and action, frequently second to the ball and, all the way to half-time, looking more like an away team defending a lead.

They did have one or two promising moments early in the match, but, without written notes, they would have been difficult to recall by any home fans in the stands who had been aware mainly of Ajax giving their heroes a showing-up.

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Even those incidents of promise tended to be poorly executed, but perhaps the most reliable indicator of Celtic’s ineffectiveness was the total absence of a threat from the wide players, Agathe on the right and Guppy on the left.

If Celtic improved in the second half, it was not so much in the matter of imposing a threat in forward areas as it was in working harder to contain opponents whose passing and movement had a crispness and sharpness the home side could not match.

Martin O’Neill had clearly impressed upon them the need to press the ball in every part of the field, but, when in possession, the Celtic players in the main could not use it as effectively as their opponents at pace.

Even during those periods when O’Neill’s team managed to push Ajax back towards Grim, there remained the ever-present possibility of a quick and slickly-executed break which would leave Joos Valgaeren, Johan Mjallby - both having played despite appearing less than fully fit - and Tom Boyd having to lunge desperately in defence.

For most of the time, those Parkhead players who have become accustomed to creating space in which to inflict pain on their opponents, appeared shocked at how much quicker the Ajax players were. But, as their passing became increasingly ragged, O’Neill replaced McNamara with Lubomir Moravcik. It was soon after that Celtic would produce their first piece of genuine menace, even if the little Slovakian had no hand in it.

Agathe worked a 1-2 with Lambert on the right and, for once, the Frenchman galloped away from Maxwell, his Brazilian marker, and reached the dead ball line.

His low, driven cross could have given the Ajax defenders a serious problem, but they coped well, making the clearance.

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O’Neill’s counterpart, Co Adriaanse, had substitutes of his own who could be dangerous, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was followed on to the field by Achmed Hossam, the pair replacing striker Nikos Machlas and defender Andre Bergdolmo. When Shota Arveladze was played in by Ibrahimovic on the left, it looked as though the switch would work, but Douglas made a good save from the striker’s powerful shot.

On a night when there were too many such scares for comfort, Celtic would learn just how difficult the Champions League is likely to be.

Celtic: Douglas; Mjallby, Valgaeren, Boyd; Agathe, McNamara (Moravcik 72), Lambert, Lennon, Guppy; Sutton, Larsson. Subs not used: Kharine, Sylla, Tebily, Petrov, Crainey.

Ajax: Grim; Trabelsi, Bergdolmo (Mido) 76, Vierklau (Knopper 72), Chivu, Maxwell; Wamberto, Yakubu, Van der Vaart; Machlas (Ibrahimovic 65), Arveladze. Subs not used: Stekelenburg, Hossan, Heitinga, Pienaar.

Referee: S. Braschi (Ita). Attendance: 60,000