Magical stage for Thompson and his wand

The Nou Camp has a tiny chapel next to the home dressing-room for any Barcelona player who needs a connection to God, though you would think that, with Ronaldinho already on board, they do not need any more divine inspiration.

For the huge Celtic following who will be in this football cathedral on Thursday night, their dreams of reaching another Uefa Cup final will rest on a man who, like a prophet, is without honour in his own country.

England may not want Alan Thompson, but the 10,000 Celtic fans who will fly into Barcelona would not swap him for David Beckham. The man whose goal at Parkhead 10 days ago in the first leg separates the sides will endeavour to answer those prayers and propel Martin O'Neill's team into the last eight.

The pain in Spain on Celtic's last visit 10 months ago is what drives Thompson and his team-mates. No one was more distressed than the Geordie when the Uefa Cup final in Seville slipped out of their reach as Porto scored in the dying minutes of extra time. Thompson sobbed uncontrollably.

Eliminating Barcelona would soothe those memories. "This is a massive game for us," said the left-winger whose sixth goal in Europe for Celtic in the first leg illustrates his own status as a big-game player. He scored at Stuttgart and Anfield in last season's run, and at Bayern Munich's Olympic Stadium in this season's Champions' League campaign. Is the Nou Camp next? "It is one of those places that you dream about playing in as a kid, along with Wembley and the Bernabeu," said Thompson. "I played at Wembley with Bolton but there will be more than 90,000 there on Thursday, which will make it the biggest crowd I have seen.

"Barcelona were magnificent in the first game. Better than any of the sides we faced on the way to last season's final. Not many teams come to Parkhead and create four clear chances the way they did. They have players who hurt you with one piece of magic, it's not just about Ronaldinho, though it does help us that Javier Saviola is suspended [sent off for kicking Thompson]."

Barcelona may have finished with only nine men in Glasgow, but instead of licking their wounds, they tried to portray Celtic as relying solely on brute force. "A few teams did that last season," said Thompson wryly. "They came here and went away with a 1-0 defeat or a 1-1 draw, thinking, 'That's it, the job is done'. But it wasn't."

What should gnaw at Barça's subconscious is that Thompson is playing without inhibition now that he has given up trying to impress Sven Goran Eriksson. The England manager ignored the advice of O'Neill to select him, and when he did finally come to Glasgow, Thompson deliv-ered his worst performance in years against FK Teplice.

"I have pushed England to one side now," Thompson said. "My best chance has gone and I am not going to let it spoil things any more. It affected my game. I felt like I was a kid going for a trial, but I'm 30. I know I'm not going to Portugal, I've already got the holiday brochures out."

Celtic's assistant manager, John Robertson, knows a thing or two about left-wingers. The former Nottingham Forest idol believes Eriksson has made a mistake. "Alan's left foot is like a wand," he said. "His delivery is like David Beckham. It's not for me to tell anyone their job, but Thommo deserved a chance. People in England say it's easy up here, but he has delivered on the European stage so often."

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