Strachan pessimism built on firm foundations

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The Independent Football

Gordon Strachan said he would not put his house on Celtic reaching the Champions League quarter-finals. And even with a potential return of 35 more houses if the bet came off (35-1 is on offer), it will be hard to find many people believing that offers value.

Celtic need to beat Barcelona by two clear goals in the Nou Camp on 4 March. If the task were as simple as the maths, then roll on the quarters. But having lost 3-2 at home on Wednesday to a side who oozed class, playing mostly within themselves, Strachan's team are realistically goners.

Victory by the necessary margin would be not just the best single result in Celtic's European history. It would be the biggest Champions League shock ever. And the briefest perusal of Celtic's away form shows why.

At home? Magnificent in the 17 games in the tournament proper since 2001: 12 wins, three draws, two defeats (both to Barça). Away? More like "look away". Fifteen defeats and one draw, in 2004 against Barça, incidentally, who only needed the draw.

"We're probably going to need a miracle over there," said Paul Caddis, 19, given a tournament debut at right-back in only his third game for Celtic. "Six weeks ago I was playing in the reserves up in Inverness and then I'm facing the likes of Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry." He might have added Deco, Andres Iniesta and others who had chances to add to Messi's two goals and the latest sublime strike from Henry.

"They're another level up from us," said Celtic's captain, Stephen McManus. Levels, more like, even though Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Barry Robson put Celtic 1-0 and 2-1 ahead. Barça, on Wednesday's form, are levels above most.

The question for the rest of Europe's elite is whether Barça, the clear tournament favourites, are peaking at just the right time. They seem to be, not just in statistical terms – one defeat in 21 games – but with Ronaldinho and Henry resurgent, Messi hungry, Deco purring and Eto'o back after a long African Nations Cup absence.

"It was probably one of our best games of the season," said Barca's captain, Carles Puyol. "It is the path to follow. But we shouldn't drop our guard: Celtic aren't out of it yet." Don't bet your house on it.

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