They travelled to Moscow in hope rather than anticipation and were served up an incredible 2-0 victory that keeps Celtic’s UEFA Champions League ambitions alive.
Dinamo Moscow are 16 games into their league season and had a one-goal advantage after their victory last week at Celtic Park, but there wasn’t even a whiff of a European away ‘hoodoo’ as Tony Mowbray’s men overturned the odds with a remarkable two-goal win that puts them through to the next round of qualifiers.
Scott McDonald stunned the home support with a goal just a minute before half time and then, just seconds after the 90th minute, substitute Georgios Samaras sealed a win that will live long in the memory.
This compact little stadium and tight pitch made for an imposing environment, made all the more so by the ranks of police and soldiers that flanked the avenues leading up to the stadium.
The Dinamo fans were also ‘up’ for the match, some arriving at the Khimki Stadium three and a half hours before kick-off. Meanwhile, in a stand of their own, stood a hardy and vocal bunch of around 200 Celtic supporters.
It was against this noisy backdrop that Celtic were aiming to overturn the one-goal deficit after last week’s defeat at Celtic Park, with Tony Mowbray making just one change to the starting XI, bringing in Danny Fox for Lee Naylor.
The opening 15 minutes of the match proved to be a tentative game of cat and mouse, with Celtic pressing forward and at times looking good on the ball, but remaining wary of the threat posed by the Russians’ favored counter-attacking style.
For their part, Dinamo looked to use their extra man in the centre of midfield, with Dmitry Kombarov breaking forward to support lone striker, Alexander Kerzhakov and captain, Dmitri Khokhlov, exerting his influence in the middle.
Meanwhile Landry NGuemo was Celtic’s outstanding player and while there were few shots on target, there were a few jittery moments at both ends and it made for a tense, nerve-shredding first 45 minutes.
Celtic looked like they were warming to the task, though and Marc-Antoine Fortune’s hold-up play had largely been excellent, with most of Celtic’s promising openings coming from corners and free kicks won by the big striker.
Then, just one minute before half time, Tony Mowbray’s men struck in spectacular fashion.
It was a long pass from Glenn Loovens that sparked the move, with McDonald holding the ball up excellently. The ball was then beautifully switched by NGuemo to Fortune on the right, who controlled it and laid it off for Andy Hinkel, who swung his cross onto the head of McDonald, who bulleted home his header.
This goal set up a frantic finish with Dinamo threatening twice after a corner was swung into the box and their second shot was cleared off the line by Hinkel at the post.
There was some evidence of tension in the Dinamo ranks, with the crowd howling at the misplaced passes that were hit after the restart.
However Dmitry Kombarov sent a glorious chance spinning inches past the post after a ridiculous dive by Viktor Svezhov in the box.
This wasn’t the first time that the Dinamo players would go down theatrically in an attempt to sway the referee and after winning a corner from another dive, Hinkel was again forced to clear the ball off the line.
But Celtic had also taken confidence from the goal and McDonald sent a shot from around 25 yards out just wide of the target with an hour played.
In the 69th minute Tony Mowbray then made a change, bringing on Scott Brown for Fortune and pushing the midfielder into an attacking role, where he immediately began harrying the defense with all his usual vigor.
Celtic immediately began to threaten, causing further ripples of concern to roll across the Moscow ranks.
Fox had also been outstanding in what was his European debut, playing well in defense and supporting in attack, while Shaun Maloney came onto a game, sending in a free kick that almost found Gary Caldwell and a corner that was nearly met by Loovens.
Celtic had dominated the second half and looked by far the better side and after Brown expertly shielded the ball and laid it off to Maloney, the little attacker wriggled through and saw his shot blocked by the keeper.
But there was another twist in the tale and as the ball was played forward, substitute Georgios Samaras cut in, took a couple of touches and squeezed his shot into the corner of the net, past the fingertips of the Dinamo keeper.
Cue bedlam and wild celebrations among the players. And over the course of the two legs it was a victory that Celtic certainly deserved.