‘Cruel’ Valencia defeat on penalties in 2001 still vivid for former Celtic captain Tom Boyd

Tom Boyd was still officially club captain of Celtic when they last met Valencia in European competition, although he wryly recalls he had effectively been reduced in status to Martin O’Neill’s tea boy by that stage of his career.

But while he had to settle for a seat in the stand at Celtic Park on 6 December 2001, Boyd became as engaged as any of the 57,000 fellow spectators who witnessed one of the most absorbing and tumultuous evenings there has been at the stadium.

It was a drama played out by a star-studded cast of characters, from managers O’Neill and Rafa Benitez to key figures Henrik Larsson and Santiago Canizares, as Celtic fell agonisingly short of a famous victory over an exceptional Valencia side who would go on to win their first La Liga title in 30 years that season.

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Trailing 1-0 from the first leg of the Uefa Cup fourth round tie at the Mestalla Stadium two weeks earlier, Celtic took charge of the return fixture from the start and fully merited the sublime finish from Larsson on the stroke of half-time which levelled the aggregate score.

Henrik Larsson, who had levelled the tie on aggregate for Celtic, cuts a dejected figure after missing a penalty during the shoot-out against Valencia. Picture: SNS.Henrik Larsson, who had levelled the tie on aggregate for Celtic, cuts a dejected figure after missing a penalty during the shoot-out against Valencia. Picture: SNS.
Henrik Larsson, who had levelled the tie on aggregate for Celtic, cuts a dejected figure after missing a penalty during the shoot-out against Valencia. Picture: SNS.

Neither side could find a winner in a pulsating second half or in 30 draining minutes of extra time, setting up what proved to be an extraordinarily topsy-turvy penalty shoot-out which Valencia edged 5-4 in sudden death.

“The team had competed really well against an excellent Valencia side and probably deserved to go through on the night,” said Boyd. “In the end, it was a really cruel way to go out.”

After Paul Lambert and John Carew had successfully converted the first two spot-kicks, it was Celtic who seized the initial advantage when, after Alan Thompson put them 2-1 up, goalkeeper Rab Douglas kept out Vicente’s effort.

The gamesmanship of Valencia captain Canizares, the outstanding Spanish international goalkeeper, had failed to ruffle Celtic at that stage as he theatrically tried to delay the taking of the home team’s penalties.

But it was Larsson who uncharacteristically blinked first for Celtic, blazing his attempt over the crossbar in a style reminiscent of Dixie Deans’ costly miss for the club against Inter Milan back in the 1972 European Cup semi-final shoot-out.

It allowed Uruguayan midfielder Gonzalo de los Santos to level at 2-2 for Valencia, then the tie looked to be slipping out of Celtic’s grasp when Stiliyan Petrov sliced his kick wide and Juan Sanchez put the visitors 3-2 ahead.

Chris Sutton stepped forward, knowing that a miss would put Celtic out, and kept his cool to beat Canizares, despite the ‘keeper getting a touch to the ball. It left Roberto Ayala with the chance to win it for Valencia but hope was renewed amid a delirious home support when the experienced captain of Argentina saw his tame effort saved by Douglas.

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Into sudden death, John Hartson and future Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino both scored to extend the drama. It was a tale with a bizarre final twist. Joos Valgaeren was perhaps an unlikely penalty taker and the big Belgian defender endured the agony of missing twice.

Canizares was finally penalised for his antics when the referee ordered Valgaeren’s kick to be taken again after the ’keeper moved well off his line to save it. But there was no reprieve for Celtic as Canizares guessed correctly again to keep out the re-take. It left Valencia striker Mista to have the final word, his penalty beating the stricken Douglas via the underside of the crossbar.

It ended what had been a memorable European campaign for O’Neill’s squad who had beaten Ajax in the Champions League qualifiers to reach the group stage of the elite tournament for the first time in the club’s history. They finished third behind Juventus and Porto in a keenly contested group to drop into the Uefa Cup tie against Valencia. “I played in the qualifier against Ajax at the start of that season which was an amazing win for the club,” recalls Boyd who celebrated his 36th birthday that season.

“But I got injured at the end of August and dropped out of the side. Big Joos, Bobo Balde and Johan Mjallby became the three established centre-backs and I couldn’t get back into the team. To be fair, they were three very decent players. I was just around to make the tea for the manager after that!

“I remember the shoot-out against Valencia, especially Joos missing twice which was really tough on him.”

Boyd, now an official club ambassador and Celtic TV analyst, believes Brendan Rodgers and his players will find the current Valencia side equally testing opposition in the first leg of their Europa League last 32 tie at Parkhead tomorrow night.

“This is going to be a massive test for Celtic,” added Boyd. “You just have to look at the quality Valencia have. They’ve recently drawn 2-2 with Barcelona. They don’t lose a lot of games. They are just starting to kick on a little bit in the Spanish League.

“So it will be very difficult for Celtic and a lot will depend on the players Brendan Rodgers has available due to the ongoing injury situation. There has almost been a first team squad’s worth of players missing over the past few weeks.

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“The strength in depth that a club like Celtic always needs is certainly being tested to the full right now. Hopefully that situation will improve and there will be players back in time for Valencia.”

Boyd, an attacking full-back of some repute himself during his playing career, is enthused by the early impact of January deadline day signing Jeremy Toljan and feels the on-loan Borussia Dortmund right-back can be a valuable asset as Celtic try to forge a first leg lead against Valencia.

“Toljan looks very good,” said Boyd. “He’s comfortable on the ball and likes to go forward. Celtic obviously love to attack so full-backs here are designed to get forward. He is certainly one who looks as if he can improve the team’s attacking abilities and hopefully we see that against Valencia.”