Celtic FC will make history if they keep their UEFA Champions League hopes alive by overturning a mammoth first-leg deficit against FC Artmedia Bratislava in Scotland this evening.
Gordon Strachan's side were humbled 5-0 in Slovakia last week, Juraj Halenár completing his hat-trick in the final minute as the home side took a seemingly unassailable lead. Even though failure to reach the group stage will leave them with an estimated €15m shortfall in revenue, the Glasgow outfit - who scored four against Motherwell FC at the weekend, albeit in a 4-4 draw - have not yet relinquished all hope.
"The freak result won't stop our vision," said Strachan, who replaced the revered Martin O'Neill earlier this summer. "I don't think the memories will go away, but I'm not going to start wielding the axe. If I did, it would be me and the tea lady in the side. Everybody takes the blame for that result and we have to try to respond. We have to put it right."
No team has ever managed to "put right" a five-goal first-leg deficit in UEFA club competitions before, but three sides have managed to come back from four goals down. Leixões SC, FK Partizan and Real Madrid CF have all progressed after returning to home turf with that mountain to climb, but Panathinaikos FC's UEFA Cup third-round tie against Budapest Honvéd FC 18 years ago could provide the best parallel for Celtic.
The Hungarian outfit surged into a 5-0 lead after 63 minutes of the first leg and although Dimitrious Saravakos pulled two late goals back, they appeared no more than a consolation. But buoyed by a vociferous home crowd, Panathanaikos dominated the return leg, Kostas Batsinilas's 82nd-minute strike sealing a 5-1 win on the night, 7-6 on aggregate.
Across the Aegean Sea in Istanbul in May, Liverpool FC famously came from three goals down against AC Milan in the competition's showpiece. Three goals in six minutes at the start of the second half helped Rafael Benítez's side to a 3-3 draw, before going on to win an enthralling penalty shoot-out.
That final victory must feel far away for the European champions, as they approach their fourth game of their title defence in the evening's only other match. Liverpool lead FBK Kaunas 3-1 after a faltering performance in Lithuania last week and could book a third qualifying round tie against either Albania's SK Tirana or Bulgarian side PFC CSKA Sofia if they complete the task at Anfield.
Queens Park inspiration
Some 350kms north, Strachan will look on enviously at their position but the Celtic manager, who will be without the versatile Chris Sutton against Artmedia, has not given up hope of facing the winner of the tie between FK Partizan and FC Sheriff. And if he needs further inspiration the former Scottish international can look closer to home, across town to Hampden Park where Queens Park FC overturned a 5-0 deficit against Kilmarnock FC in 1900 - in just 45 minutes.
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