Display against Barcelona shows Celtic have finally found their fire on the biggest stage
Thursday 25 October 2012
"We played with fire but we didn't get burned" was how one popular Barcelona paper reacted to their duel with Celtic yesterday – that headline in itself is a measure of how far Neil Lennon's side have come in terms of European competition.
Having almost matched the side that has won the Champions League twice in the last four years Celtic must now finish the job in Group G with two of their last three games at home, starting against a Barcelona side gradually welcoming back injured defenders.
Gerard Pique and Dani Alves could both return for that match but Celtic showed in Moscow and in the 2-1 defeat at the Nou Camp that a recent history of looking woefully out of their depth on the European stage has been put well behind them.
There was praise for the way they went about their job on Tuesday from former Barcelona player Victor Munoz, who won the Uefa Cup and La Liga in a career that also took him to St Mirren for one season in the early 1990s.
While the last-minute defeat has lent itself to stories of plucky defiance, Munoz praised a mature and intelligent display. "Celtic's defensive organisation created problems for Barcelona," he said. "Lennon was clever in the way he always had one of his central midfielders dropping back to make a third central defender.
"And they didn't just defend – they came out with the ball well looking for [Georgios] Samaras and he held the ball up well up until his injury. Even then Lennon never renounced attack bringing on [James] Forrest and [Kris] Commons in the second half."
Barça's visit Glasgow on 7 November and the Celtic manager will not be troubled by suspensions. Only Javier Mascherano and Adriano of Barcelona picked up cautions as Celtic stayed out of trouble with Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi.
Yesterday though Pique was looking a little further ahead – to the Champions League final at Wembley next May. He said: "Wembley means a lot to Barça. We won our first European Cup there when [Ronald] Koeman scored and then we were lucky enough to repeat that in 2011. Wembley is very special for us. There are a lot of games before then but we are on the right road."
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