What Victory Over Barcelona Means For Celtic

Celtic sit in a comfortable and assured second place in their Champions League group, after last night bore witness to one of the greatest nights in the club’s illustrious 125-year  history.

Barcelona, arguably the best footballing side this world has ever seen, arrived in Glasgow, fully armed with Lionel Messi & Co., fully intent on taking three points back to the Catalan capital. In their way – an injury depleted Celtic squad.

What followed was, quite simply, one of the most breathtaking games of football ever to be played on Scottish soil. Make no mistake, this was a night of similar magnitude to even the most legendary of Celtic European nights, arguably falling short of only one; Lisbon 1967.

“The Celtic fans are very special and the club and the players can be very proud of them. They are the best I have ever heard and I am sure playing in front of a crowd like that can make a big difference for the players,” Andres Iniesta had said before the game.

He was most certainly proven right.

The wall of noise which greeted the players on arrival to the pitch was deafening, and the stadium-wide display of green and white Hoops and Celtic crosses, in honour of the anniversary milestone, was equally as impressive.

The decibels rose on a few occasions to the same fever pitch throughout the night: after twenty minutes when Victor Wanyama leapt highest to meet Charlie Mulgrew’s corner and bulleted the ball into the back of the net; and when Tony Watt  raced clear of the Barcelona defence and, with a composure far beyond his eighteen years, slid the ball effortlessly beyond Victor Valdes.

The noise reached an almighty crescendo as the full-time whistle blew, and feelings of relief, and disbelief, and joy, and ecstasy, and triumph permeated the entire stadium.

Down at pitch level, Celtic manager Neil Lennon held his head in his hands before running to meet his players on the field, stopping to embrace every one of them. They strode from the field with an understated, quiet satisfaction. Yet none of them had ever scaled such giddy heights in the game before.

Celtic had buried the demons of their trip to the Nou Camp a fortnight ago, when it had looked for so long that they were to achieve a draw in Spain, only for Barca to snatch victory in the final 30 seconds. There were momentary fears that lightning was about to strike twice last night as with only two minutes of injury time remaining, Lionel Messi finally beat Fraser Forster – La Gran Marulla (The Great Wall) as one Spanish newspaper named him this morning.

Lennon had said of coming so close in Barcelona: “I learnt a lot about my players that night.”

Europe most likely caught up with Lennon at some point late last night, as news of Celtic’s 2-1 victory over Barcelona was met with disbelief and

Celtic have basked in the sun of their victory for almost 24 hours, and Tony Watt and Forster have surely written themselves into club folklore.

But what, if anything, has changed for Celtic in this Champions League group?

Firstly and most immediately, Celtic have strengthened their chances of reaching the last sixteen stages of the Champions League no end. While there is a huge amount of work and concentration still required if Celtic are to progress, personnel from both Benfica and Spartak Moscow reflected glumly on their chances of clinching second place after the result in Glasgow.

Second, and perhaps just as immediate, is how high Celtic’s stock currently is. Prior to the game, Sky Sports pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Redknapp both felt that Barcelona would be comfortable winners, particularly as Celtic had suffered the late exclusion of captain Scott Brown through a vomiting bug.

By full time, Neville was applauding young Tony Watt’s tenacity to score on his Champions League debut, and Redknapp was labelling Fraser Forster as “a world class goalkeeper. It’s just a shame he’s got Joe Hart (1st choice England ‘keeper) in front of him, but he’ll go all the way.”

Victory Wanyama has now produced two show-stealing performances against Barcelona, which can only have served to heighten the interest of potential suitors, who have included Manchester United to date.

Going forward, Celtic face Benfica in Portugal in the next fixture. In seasons gone by, this game would have been viewed with a weariness, given Celtic’s away record until lately. Given that Celtic have beaten Spartak in Moscow and came within a few moments of a famous draw in Catalunya, it seems peculiar to think that Benfica would have been pinpointed as the “easiest” of the three away ties.

Celtic then close their group campaign against Spartak in Glasgow, where they will be expected to take all three points. Should Celtic come up with a win in Portugal and qualify for the last 16 earlier than most fans could have dreamt, then that last game at Celtic Park would become a celebration. At present, it may well come to be almost as nervy a night as last night’s.

What is clear is that Celtic have a young and vibrant squad, filled with vastly under-rated talent, marshaled in confident fashion by their equally skilled young manager Neil Lennon, quietly and deftly crafted by Chief Scout John Park.

Perhaps Lennon best encapsulated the air of excitement for the future which currently surrounds Celtic when he said last night: “I am not saying that this is the pinnacle, because I think there is more to come from this team. You know, the progression is great.”