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Call-up sweetens Gordon's grief

CRAIG Gordon briefly struggled to keep his emotions in check as the strains of Handel's Zadok the Priest rang out over the Parkhead public address system on Tuesday night.

Craig Gordon has been stuck on 40 caps since 2011
Craig Gordon has been stuck on 40 caps since 2011

The 31-year-old is sorely disappointed that he won't hear Uefa's Champions League theme on a more regular basis. The Celtic goalkeeper, formerly of Hearts and Sunderland, has never played in the group stage of Europe's most prestigious club competition and despite his best efforts in midweek he is no nearer to ticking that career box.

So bitterly was this setback taken it seemed pointless to suggest that with at least three outstanding saves to his name - from Maribor's Mitja Viler, Dare Vrsic and Jean-Philippe Mendy - no player did more to keep Celtic in qualifying contention till the last.

To date - touch wood - Gordon's redemption from career-threatening knee injuries remains ahead of schedule, but his experience of the continental club game will remain restricted to the Europa League and a handful of Champions League qualifiers, four of them with Hearts in 2006.

"Maybe in a few days' time I'll look back more on the positive of just playing," Gordon said. "But right now I'm gutted I've not made it through. It was a massive chance for the club and for me personally. I've never played in the Champions League so just to get there, to taste it, would have been special. So I'm bitterly disappointed we're not there this year.

"When that music came on at the start the noise that went round the ground, it was a pretty emotional moment for me to be out in the middle of it, just to feel the reception the players got."

Gordon's angst was multiplied by a number of factors. Not only did the Maribor tie seem winnable, it was also Celtic's second life, re-instated into the competition after the administrative oversight which saw Legia Warsaw field an ineligible player. As it is, both sides now end up in the Europa League. Celtic, perhaps, can count ­themselves fortunate to have even that.

"We have the attributes in this team to have gone and done it, whereas it was a bit of an adventure at Hearts," Gordon said. "Celtic are a far more established European team and have been in the Champions League for the past few years. We have people here who know what it takes to get there and that's what makes it more disappointing. It's so hard to take, but looking back we probably weren't good enough."

He added: "It could have been worse, couldn't it? We could have had to play a qualifier for the Europa League so at least we have the group, but it's no consolation, not just now."

A real source of consolation for Gordon is that he may soon get emotional hearing the national anthem before Scotland games again. His years in international purgatory, stuck on 40 caps since playing the Faroes in 2011, ended on Monday when Gordon Strachan recalled him to the Scotland squad for the forthcoming Euro 2016 qualifier against Germany.

"I'm delighted with [the recall] - that was a great piece of news this week," Gordon said. "I didn't really expect it after so few games but it's something to look forward to.

"At times I never thought I would be back in an international squad or even on a football pitch, so I've got to take stock of that and realise I'm back playing and that's an achievement in itself.

"I just wanted to go a stage further [with the Champions League] and I haven't been able to do it. I haven't spoken to Gordon Strachan but it feels like a real vote of confidence - he was here at the Dundee United game and again at the Maribor game. I just have to get back into the swing of things and play as many games as I can and try to force my way back into contention for a few more caps."

His immediate future may not include a debut in the Champions League group stage, but a new chapter in his life is beginning.

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