By Jonathan Wilson
UEFA Cup quarter-finals are always important, but Thursday's meeting at Celtic Park between Celtic FC and Liverpool FC has extra significance, as former Liverpool midfield player Steve McManaman - who scored a sensational goal last time the sides met - is well aware.
'Lot of hype'
"Thursday's game is going to be a tough one for both sides," the Real Madrid CF player told uefa.com. "There's always a lot of hype around when English and Scottish sides face each other and
I think Liverpool will have a real battle on their hands."
That last meeting came in the first round of the UEFA Cup in 1997. Michael Owen put the Reds ahead, but Jackie McNamara and Simon Donnelly turned things around before, in the last minute, McManaman picked the ball up on halfway, ghosted through the Celtic defence and curled in a finish from the edge of the box. With the second leg finishing goalless, Liverpool progressed on the away goals rule.
"The tie brings back great memories for me," McManaman said. "I scored one of the best goals of my career against Celtic at Parkhead. There were a lot of rumours at the time that I was leaving Liverpool and going to [FC] Barcelona so it meant a lot to me to score such an important goal and prove my commitment to the fans."
Desperate for success
It is not just about the Anglo-Scottish rivalry. Liverpool lie sixth in the Premiership table and, after winning the League Cup earlier this month, further progress in the UEFA Cup should help cement their recent resurgence. Celtic, meanwhile, crave European success, having not been in a quarter-final since 1980.
'Silence the doubters'
"This is a massive game for both sides," McManaman added. "Liverpool will be riding high after their League Cup victory but they have been criticised this season and they know that a European trophy would certainly silence their doubters. Celtic too have something to prove.
"They have shown what they can do in the Scottish league since Martin O'Neill took over, but this team has never tasted European glory.
One thing is guaranteed, though: there will be a sensational atmosphere at Parkhead. Celtic's stadium is fantastic and it's one of those places that every player likes to play at."
Certainly Owen will have fond memories of that last game at Celtic Park - his goal that night was his first in European competition. The 23-year-old has scored in each of his last four games, and Gérard Houllier is well aware of the importance of his return to something approaching his best.
'Big game player'
"He is a big game player and when he is fit, he is, in my view, one of the best strikers in the world - it is as simple as that," Houllier said. "He can score any goal in any game - right foot, left foot, header - and he is coming into form just at the right moment.”
Celtic, meanwhile, will have their own talismanic forward back in action after Henrik Larsson was declared fit following a broken jaw. Emile Heskey will return for Liverpool, but defender Stéphane Henchoz is still out with a calf injury. As McManaman will vouch, whoever plays will find it an occasion to remember.
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