Two weeks ago, in a little ground in Barcelona, a team of hopefuls narrowly lost to the best team in the world. In the space between that result and kick off last night, it was evident that Celtic hadn’t thought about anything else.
On match day I would have to say that I had no retaining negative thoughts. My heart wasn’t about to give in to defeat after what I had seen from my seat in Camp Nou.
In Barcelona, I found myself believing in Celtic more than ever. I recall finding victory in the moments after the final whistle, but it didn’t end there.
The feeling of being pegged back by a superior team and still finding the net against them was a plus. Stifling the advances of their mercurial attacks was another bonus.
To stop this team in their tracks though is impossible. You don’t stop Barcelona, you just divert them.
If you can prevent yourself from being hypnotised by their passing, you are doing well. As a supporter, I rarely find myself captivated by the opposition but when it comes to Barcelona you cannot help yourself.
So consider what Celtic did two weeks ago and how spirited they must have felt in staving off wave after wave of attack. Losing at the death of that match would have hurt, but the players must have felt it within themselves that they could get something at Celtic Park after being that close to a draw.
One defeat, one win and one draw later it was time to face the Catalan club again. Injury ravaged and battle weary there was no doubt that supporter power from the stands would be essential.
The fans did not let anyone down. They sang like I had never heard them before.
A display of green and white celebrating “125 unbroken years” brought a tear to the eye. As the game kicked off so did the continual chants from the Celtic fans.
On the field Barcelona were already beginning to work their magic as the weaved their way amongst Celtic. Possession was conceded before kick off.
You cannot beat this kind of execution of football at its own game. To counter it you must fill the holes left behind by the your opponent.
Celtic’s tight back line resisted the multi-pronged attack of Barcelona. The full backs kept their shape only abandoning their central defenders when the ball was with an opposition wide man.
The centre pairing kept close to the Goliath-like Fraser Forster throughout the game, like guards at the gates of Paradise. On the perimeter, the midfield provided a second wave of defence and counter attack, ready to intercept and move forward.
This concentrated psychological goes beyond tactics. Mental strength and awareness can win in sport even against the odds.
Celtic found slight relief in attack but the unfitness of Greek goal hunter Samaras was evident. Still, he would slow the game down and draw one or two Barcelona players with him.
On this night it was the Venezuelan hit-man Miku who gave the opposition the real trouble though. His contribution in Celtic matches has been fairly unremarkable but after opening his account at the weekend, he looked more positive.
Even though he made good runs forward, he didn’t get on the score sheet. That would fall to the ever impressive youth element of the Celtic ranks.
The Hoops would take the lead around the same time they did in Barcelona. A well flighted ball from a corner and was superbly met by the head of Victor Wanyama and past Valdes.
There would be no sucker punch before the interval in this match – job half done. Some half-time oranges and a pep talk and it was back to work for the Bhoy’s.
To my amazement, I felt things were beginning to ease up on Celtic as the second half progressed. Not so much a foothold for Celtic, more of a frustration to Barcelona that we were refusing to quit.
The word’s “anti-football” have been banded about for the last fortnight when discussing Celtic’s performance against Barcelona. What the hell are you supposed to do against Barcelona?
I guess you’re supposed to throw your men forward when Barcelona have the ball for 80% of the time? No prizes for guessing what sort of result you’d get there.
This is a young side, learning their trade in the big arena’s, much like their young manager. That youth would provide a winner as well.
Tony Watt, a substitution for a bruised and battered Mikael Lustig had heads turning. No words were uttered in the living room.
Eighteen minutes to go, plus stoppages. It felt like quiet prayers were being said on the sofa.
Ten minutes later Fraser Forster collected a Messi free kick and punted the ball high and long up field. A nothing ball if ever there was one.
As it dropped, the ever impressive Xavi looked to calmly collect, but he never got the touch. Instead it bounced at his feet continued on its way forward and into the path Tony Watt.
He left Mascherano for dead and headed into the box. The 18-year-old striker slotted the ball past Valdes with the kind of finish any striker would be proud of.
If I thought the stadium was bouncing at 1-0 then reverberations for the second could easily be felt in that Sussex living room. Six minutes plus stoppages left!
Just inside injury time, Barcelona were pinging the ball about inside our box and a got shot on goal. It brought out a low one-handed save from Forster but the rebound fell to Messi and finally he beat his adversary of 180 minutes.
When that whistle blew, so to did our minds. A famous victory at Celtic Park.
Group G now sees Barcelona on nine points, Celtic on seven points, Benfica on four and Spartak Moscow on three. The last two matches will be tough and require further mental strength.
Neither match will be a walk in the park. Benfica will be looking to capitalise against Celtic whilst Spartak will look to revive their hopes with a home tie against Barcelona.
The final group stage fixtures will see Celtic at home against Spartak and Benfica against Barcelona at Camp Nou. How will
And just remember, Alex Song should have been sent off and we were denied a penalty. Most of all, when your team beat the best team in the world in a competitive match, does that make your team the best team in the world?
P.S. check out my CQN article “125 Unbroken Years” in issue eleven here: