Cluj success puts different light on Celtic's Champions League exit

By David Walton

February 25, 2020

Neil Lennon may be reaping the rewards of being given time to build his Celtic squad, but it wasn’t always this rosy.

Back in August, the Hoops suffered what was, at the time, a shocking Champions League exit to CFR Cluj. Our 4-3 Celtic Park defeat came after a 1-1 draw in Romania in the first-leg of the third qualifying round. It looked for certain at that point that progression was inevitable.

It didn’t work out that way after a night of total madness ensued. Celtic came from being 1-0 down to lead Cluj 2-1 and then 3-2 heading into the closing stages. However, Billel Omrani netted before George Tucudean scored in added time to compound our misery and knock us out.

Billel Omrani and Odsonne Edouard (Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

Some in our support were extremely angry and felt the result was embarrassing (Daily Express). I was one of them too. I believed that Celtic should’ve had more than enough to see Cluj off comfortably.

Yet whilst we should’ve won the game, it doesn’t look as though it was the embarrassment it first seemed.

Cluj continue to surprise

Cluj’s exploits in Europe since then have been impressive, to say the least. They’ve managed two wins against Rennes both home and away whilst also putting Lazio to the sword in Romania. When they went to Italy for matchday five of the group stage, they only fell to a 1-0 defeat. Both of these sides sit third and second in Ligue 1 and Serie A respectively.

Since then they’ve managed to progress to the last-32 of the competition. And whilst we were drawing 1-1 with Copenhagen in Denmark, they managed a 1-1 draw themselves at home to Sevilla. Sevilla who are the most successful club to ever take part in the Europa League with five tournament wins and sit fourth in La Liga.

Overall in Europe this season, Cluj have played a total of 15 games. They haven’t conceded more than two goals in any of them outside of that Parkhead night, and have also avoided defeat in 10 of them.

They’re a solid, solid outfit who have clearly improved this season. In addition to that, they also sit top of the Romanian Premier League with a three-point advantage.

Cluj boss Dan Petrescu (MB Media/Getty Images).

The emotion of being knocked out of the Champions League so suddenly perhaps added to the anger in that depressing August evening at Parkhead.

It doesn’t take away from the fact that we should’ve beaten Cluj. We were the better side and proved that in the Europa League group stages. However, at the end of the day, a surprise is a lot different to an embarrassment.

Cluj have shown since their result at Parkhead that they deserve more respect than that. Thankfully, the Celtic board didn’t panic when the likes of myself probably did.

Did we underappreciate the quality Cluj actually have? Does their in Europe prove what they’re made of? Let us know your thoughts in our discussion forum below.