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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 08:52 GMT
McNeill recalls coin-tossing win
By Thomas McGuigan

When the full-time whistle sounds in Lisbon on Wednesday, Celtic will not have to wait for the toss of a coin to decide the result.

Their fortunes will be determined on the pitch, not in the referee's room after the game.

The Glasgow side face Benfica in the Champions League and know that a win would put them within touching distance of the knock-out stage for the first time.

In 1969, it was a different story.

Celtic travelled to Portugal on the back of an impressive 3-0 win in Glasgow, with goals from Tommy Gemmell, Willie Wallace and Harry Hood.

Billy McNeill and Eusebio
Billy McNeill and Eusebio will come face to face again
But Benfica came roaring back in the return leg. Eusebio and Graca had the Portuguese 2-0 up by half-time and Diamentino levelled the tie on aggregate in stoppage time on a sodden pitch.

The sides could not be separated after extra-time and the dreaded toss of a coin was used to determine who would progress to the semi-finals of the European Cup.

Lisbon Lion Billy McNeill said it was a terrible way to decide the game, but he felt Celtic deserved to progress at the expense of their Portuguese opponents.

"It was a late kick-off about 9pm and it was bucketing down," he told BBC Sport.

"You would expect, with the game being played in Portugal, the weather would be fine. But it was raining heavily and it was a horrible evening.

"Consequently, with the game going into extra time, it was midnight before the game was decided.

"They scored with virtually the last kick of the ball to take it into extra time. It was really disappointing given our fantastic performance at Celtic Park."

The Celtic captain said none of the players involved that night wanted the game to be decided in such a manner.

"The toss of a coin was a farcical way of deciding a quarter final - irrespective of who won," said McNeill, who was part of Celtic's delegation.

"It was done in the referee's room. It was just myself, Sean Fallon and Big Jock. The room was a bit away from the dressing-rooms.

Kenny Miller celebrates at Celtic Park
Kenny Miller scored for Celtic in the 3-0 win in Glasgow
"All the players waiting there for the result were apprehensive.

"Paul Wilson was standing at the door listening to what happening and bolted for the dressing-room to tell the players when he heard we had won.

"After it was decided, it was chaos. I didn't speak to any of the Benfica players afterwards, but I know they were angry.

"It was great to get into the semi-final."

In 2006, both sides are participating in the Champions League for the fourth time.

Benfica have failed to score in their last four Champions League games.

Turning his attention to Celtic's task in Lisbon on Wednesday, McNeill said he was confident the Scottish champions could get a positive result.

"It's a difficult thing to go for a draw. The players will be a bit more cautious than the first leg," he said.

"I felt Celtic's passing in the first game was sharp. Their enthusiasm and passing were first-class.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell is flanked with some famous players
Lisbon Lions will be guests of Celtic in Portugal
"I don't think it's beyond them to get a victory. If they play with the confidence they had, they can get the win.

"Once they qualify, they can appreciate their position and consolidate."

McNeill believes Gordon Strachan has done brilliantly to mould his own side after the debacle in Bratislava last season.

"Gordon has altered various things and has looked at the players and utilised them very cleverly," McNeill said.

"He deserves a lot of credit. The Artmedia game must have hit him very hard and the manner of the performance against Benfica and the way they responded to win the SPL last season at a canter must have been very pleasing.

"I'll be hoping Celtic produce a better performance against Benfica in Lisbon than we did."

Whatever happens in Lisbon, the only certainty is that heads or tails will not decide Celtic's fate.

SEE ALSO
Celtic 3-0 Benfica
17 Oct 06 |  Europe


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