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On Wednesday night there were scenes that nowadays seem all too familiar. The new season had barely got underway but Glasgow Celtic had already been knocked out of the Champions League. Struggling to get past the qualify rounds by losing to sides they would hope to have beaten is unfortunately for the Glaswegians nothing new. However, it’s not just Celtic who fail before most have event started. Scotland’s recent footballing history is littered with early European exits to some of the continents lesser sides, some of these losses quite mortifying. Although this latest defeat was nowhere near as embarrassing as some of the ones we’ve seen in the past, Ferencvárosi are to be fair at least half decent, playing at home in what because of COVID-19 was a one-off tie, Celtic were still obvious favourites to win. But what about the real humiliating nights? There have been some absolute shockers as far as Scottish sides in Europe are concerned and here are five of the worst.
5. Aberdeen vs Skonto Riga
UEFA Cup Preliminary Round 1994-95
(1-1 on aggregate, Aberdeen lost on away goals rule)
Between 1991 and 1994 Latvian side Skonto Riga won a record breaking 14 domestic Virslīga titles in a row. In 1994 when Aberdeen faced Skonto in the Preliminary Round of the UEFA Cup, however, the Virslīga was, and still is, considered one of the weakest top flight divisions in Europe. Baring this in mind, progression for the Dons seemed a foregone conclusion.
By rights, Skonto should probably have been participating in the Champions League but for a few seasons during this period the league champions from some of the lower ranked nations were only given UEFA Cup spots. It did not matter which of the then three UEFA competitions they entered, however, they would have always been favourites for an early exit against all but the lowliest of opponents. So when the first leg in Latvia ended in a 0-0 draw it was considered a heroic performance for the minnows.
If the first leg was bad for Aberdeen the second was far worse. That poor first leg showing was followed by the Dons going crashing out after a second leg which the Independent claimed was ‘their most humiliating night in European football’. That same paper also described Aberdeen’s opponents as ‘unknown Latvians’, but after that now infamous night in North East Scotland, they soon became very well known amongst followers of the Scottish game.
Aberdeen were poor on the night but managed to keep the match goalless until 55 minutes when Aleksejs Semjonovs put the visitors into the lead and secure what would end up being a vital away goal. Aberdeen would now need to score twice but quite frankly they never looked capable. The Dons levelled the tie in injury but that was not enough and they were out on the away goals rule.
Skonto Riga lost 3-0 on aggregate to Napoli in the next round, they continued to dominate Latvian football for many years but then hit hard times and went bankrupt and out of existence in 2016. For Aberdeen, that Skonto result was the start of a terrible season that saw the club finish second bottom of the Premiership but stay up by surviving a relegation play-off tie.
4. Rangers vs Progrès Niederkorn
UEFA Europa League First Qualifying Round 2017-18
Progrès Niederkorn 2-0 Rangers
(Rangers lost 2-1 on aggregate)
Perhaps the most famous shock European exit for a Scottish side came when Glasgow Rangers lost to Progrès Niederkorn of Luxembourg in 2017.
At the time, Luxembourg’s National division was among the lowest ranked leagues in terms of their UEFA coefficient and for a team of Rangers’ stature defeating a side from Luxembourg was considered a formality. Surprisingly, the first leg did not look that way but, all things considered, an uninspiring 1-0 home win was, nonetheless, expected to be just about enough to see the ‘Gers through. The part-time side from Luxembourg, however, had other ideas…
Portuguese manager Pedro Caixinha, who had taken on the role only four months earlier took his side to Luxembourg for the second leg and saw them unable to extend their lead from the first leg despite having most of the possession. The match was goalless at half-time and in the second-half the scoreline did not really look like changing but on 66 minutes, however, there was actually a goal yet it did not come for the Glaswegians. From a free-kick Emmanuel Françoise headed in the opening goal for Progrès and the tie was suddenly all square. The goal was the first Progrès had scored in European competition since they found the net in a 1–1 draw against Northern Irish side Glentoran in 1981, albeit it came in what was only the seventh European match they’d played in the years since.
Rangers suddenly had a fight on their hands and unfortunately, it was they who would end up on the canvas. It was the Luxembourg side who would Progrès to the next round and the goal which won the tie came nine minutes after the first. A Sébastien Thill free-kick curled past everybody and into the net it to send the hosts into dreamland and of course the second qualifying round. Absolute despair for Rangers, however, as they had been knocked out by part-time minnows in scenes that were described by the Daily Record as a ‘Horror show’ and dubbed ‘humiliating’ by the BBC.
Progrès lost 3-1 on aggregate to Cypriots AEL Limassol in the next round but following season they progressed one round further defeating Azerbaijani side Gabala FK and then Budapest based Hungarian club Honvéd before losing to FC Ufa or Russia. Then, a year further on again and guess who were opponents in the second qualifying round? Yep, you guessed it, Glasgow Rangers again. This time, however, Rangers won 2-0 on aggregate. Progrès have not been the country’s most successful club on the European stage in recent years, however, as football in the country has gone from strength to strength since that famous Progrès win. F91 Dudelange have unbelievably reached the group stages of the Europa League in each of last two seasons beating teams from Poland and Romania along the way. Their group stage record, however, reads played 12, won 0, lost 10, drawn 2.
As for that Rangers side who lost to Progrès, their poor form continued into the Scottish Premiership season and when a 95th equaliser saw bottom of the league Kilmarnock secure a point away at Ibrox on 26 October manager Caixinha was sacked. Rangers ended the season in third place behind arch rivals Celtic, and Aberdeen.
3. Kilmarnock vs Connah’s Quay Nomads
UEFA Europa League First Qualifying Round 2019-20
Kilmarnock 0-2 Connah’s Quay Nomads
(Kilmarnock lost 3-2 on aggregate)
A 2-1 win over Welsh minnows Connah’s Quay Nomads was hardly earth shattering but it was a win nonetheless and Kilmarnock would surely have no problem defeating the same opposition at home when the second leg came around, right? Wrong.
Ryan Wignall gave the part-time visitors the lead at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park home but was later sent off. By that point, however, Kilmarnock were already down to ten men themselves and Connah’s Quay had gone 2-0 up from the penalty spot. The Welshmen defended deep for much of the game whilst the hosts had plenty of chances to win the tie but in the end, the visitors held on for the 2-0 win. Kilmarnock had gone crashing out to a part-time side who’s last European tie had been a 5-1 aggregate defeat against the might of Belarusian side Shaktyor Soligorsk a year earlier.
The Nomads followed up that historic victory over Kilmarnock with a 4-0 aggregate loss to FK Partizan of Belgrade whilst for Kilmarnock, a mediocre season saw Italian manager Angelo Alessio, who had joined in the summer, last only until December and the Ayrshire club finish 8th in the 12 team Scottish Premiership having finished third the previous campaign.
2. Celtic vs Artmedia Bratislava
UEFA Champions League Second Qualifying Round 2005-06
Celtic 4-0 Artmedia Bratislava
(Celtic lost 5-4 on aggregate)
When Celtic lost 5-0 away to Slovak side Artmedia Bratislava in 2005 it was described by the BBC as ‘one of the most embarrassing defeats in their history’. Losing to the club from the Slovak capital was hardly the biggest upset in the history of European football but Celtic were nonetheless still favourites to win and the manner of their defeat was stunning.
In what was new manager Gordon Strachan’s first game in charge Celtic were well and truly slaughtered. The hosts lead only 1-0 at the break but four second-half goals seemingly made progression to the next round all but guaranteed for Artmedia. Chris Sutton went off injured early on for Celtic and from that point on they never really settled. Juraj Halenar was the star of the show for Artmedia and after scoring the opening goal he went onto score a hat-trick. He also turned provider at one point grabbing an assist when Blazej Vascak scored.
With a 5-0 thumping Celtic left Bratislava with their tail between their legs but they did restore some pride in the second leg, however, defeating their opponents 4-0 and coming close to what would have been a remarkable comeback in front of a 50,000 strong crowd at their Celtic Park home. Close but no cigar, however, as they were knocked out by the Slovaks.
Artmedia played out two goalless draws with FK Partizan in the next round and after a goalless period of extra-time time defeated their Serbian opponents on penalties to qualify for the Champions League group stages where they faced Celtic’s arch rivals Glasgow Rangers. Three draws plus a victory over FC Porto saw them finish third in the group and qualify for the knockout rounds of the UEFA Cup where they promptly lost to Levski Sofia. Celtic recovered to win the Scottish Premiership finishing 17 points ahead of second placed Heart of Midlothian.
1. Aberdeen vs Bohemians
UEFA Cup Qualifying Round 2000-01
Bohemians 0-1 Aberdeen
(2-2 on aggregate, Aberdeen lost on away goals rule)
Having been knocked out by Latvian minnows Skonto Riga in 1994 another horror show six years later saw Dublin based Irish part-timers Bohemians get the better of Aberdeen.
‘One of the bleakest results of recent years for Scottish football’ was how the BBC match report described the Dons 2-1 first leg loss at home and they were not wrong. Although Aberdeen had various chances and took the lead in the second-half through Robbie Winters things then went completely pear-shaped. A Shawn Maher header after a pinpoint corner soon saw the visitors level before disaster really struck when Bohemians were awarded a last minute penalty and Trevor Molloy was on hand to slot the ball home and secure a massive first leg victory the Irishmen.
Goalless at half-time in the second leg and things were looking grim for the Dons but a 69th minute own goal gave them a way back into the game. Level at 2-2 on aggregate an extra away goal from the first leg for the Dubliners was all that separated the two sides but it was a goal that meant the Dons needed to score again. Problem for Aberdeen was they didn’t. Try as they might they couldn’t find the net and the match finished 1-1 as the Dons went crashing out again.
Another heroic display in the next round, unfortunately, did not end in victory for Bohemians as they lost 3-2 on aggregate to German side Kaiserslautern. Another disappointing season followed for Aberdeen as they finished 9th in the Premiership but perhaps luckily for them it meant they missed out on a place in Europe for the following campaign and therefore ruling out the possibility of another horrific loss to a part-time side.