Dubai: Scotland seems to have picked up the sporting-success bug from their neighbours — at long last.
After years in the footballing doldrums the Glasgow giants are flirting with European success once again.
Celtic and Rangers gave Scottish football an unexpected boost when they delivered a famous night in the Europa League as they defeated Lazio and Porto respectively.
These occasions are as rare as a healthy dinner in Scotland. You have to be of a certain vintage to recall the days of dominance by Scottish sides on overseas territory.
The last time a tartan lot made such ripples, Henrik Larsson was wearing hoops and Jose Mourinho was starting out as a coach in the opposing dugout.
All that changed on Thursday night as Celtic followed up their defeat of Lazio in Glasgow with another victory in the lights of Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
Olivier Ntcham’s 95th-minute goal handed Celtic — European champs way back in 1967 — a 2-1 victory on Thursday, their first ever win in Italy, and booked their place in the last 32 of the Europa League with two games to spare.
From Lisbon Lions to Porto punishers
Shortly after that landmark by their no-love-lost Glasgow neighbours on Thursday night, Rangers — under the tutelage of one of Europe’s finest footballers, Steven Gerrard — went on to crush Porto.
We are used to Manchester, Liverpool and London grabbing the UK headlines in European football, but this occasion belonged to the Scots.
Rangers are now on the brink of joining their cross-city rivals in the knockout stages as goals from Alfredo Morelos and Steven Davis saw two-time European Cup winners Porto well beaten 2-0 at Ibrox.
Celtic have been on the wrong end of a few European thrashings in recent years since they marched to the 2003 Uefa Cup final — ironically, they were beaten by Mourinho’s Porto in the showpiece — and Rangers have had to claw their way back to the top under the guise of a rebranded club after dodgy dealings saw them go into liquidation and become defunct.
Celtic and Rangers’ exploits mean Scotland has the fifth highest coefficient in Europe so far this season, ahead of France and Italy. Strange times indeed.
Celtic boss Neil Lennon knew what it meant.
“I’m so proud of them, not just for winning the game, but the way they played — the character, the bravery and above all else, real quality,” he said.
Gerrard was just as elated.
Not to be outdone by the green and white half of Glasgow, Rangers’ chalked up a tremendous victory over Porto, who reached the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League.
One more point is all they need to make it two Scottish sides in Europe beyond Christmas for the first time since 2008.
That was the year the old version of Rangers reached the final of the Uefa Cup, only to be defeated by Zenit St Petersburg.
“We beat a good team tonight and we’ve beaten them comfortably,” said Gerrard.
While the photos of Scottish clubs lifting European trophies are still in black and white, Lennon and Gerrard are adding a bit of colour to the mix.