DESPITE being all but knocked-out of the Champions League on Tuesday, there have been numerous high points in our campaign.
When discussing Celtic in the Champions League, I always
find myself coming back to ITV’s tweet, where they disrespectfully wrote off
any chance of Celtic qualifying from their group.
We did qualify, with a record for a Scottish team 10 points.
Throughout the course of the competition, we managed to get a very large monkey
off our backs, restore a bit of pride to Scottish football after months of
chaos ruining the reputation of our game, and we even managed to beat one of
the best teams to ever grace the sport. Not bad, eh?
After Tuesday’s first leg 3-0 defeat to Juventus, I feel
like I need a pick-me-up. So I have decided to look back on my five Champions
League highlights from this year’s campaign. All Celtic related, of course. Enjoy
this piece of nostalgia.
NUMBER 5: Samaras’
goal in the Camp Nou.
After securing our first ever away win in the Champions
League group stages (I will come back to this in more detail later), we traveled to Spain to face the best team in the world.
Confidence was high after the Spartak win and there was a
real sense of optimism around Celtic. The dream turned to reality when an 18th
minute header from Giorgios Samaras found the back of the net.
It was one of the moments you will always remember and I’m
sure this goal sparked jubilant celebrations all-round the country, and indeed,
This goal gave Celtic something to defend, something to cling
on to. It took a genius bit of attacking play to break down the Celtic defence,
when after some slick passing, Iniesta scored on the stroke of half-time.
Celtic defended brilliantly in the second half, but it wouldn't be enough to snatch a famous draw. In the 94 minute,
Jordi Alba snuck round the back post unnoticed and tapped in the winner.
Despite the defeat, Samaras’ goal and some heroic defending
gave Celtic fans real belief that we could compete at this level once
again. It’s not every season you get to
say your team had the lead away to Barcelona.
Samaras would go on to be our top scorer with three goals.
NUMBER 4: Win at
home to Spartak
In our final game of the group stages, we welcomed Spartak
Moskva to Celtic Park. In order to gain qualification to the round of 16,
Celtic had to better Benfica’s result, they were away to Barcelona.
Going in to the game I thought all we had to do was win and
that should be enough to qualify, as I expected Barcelona to beat Benfica.
Gary Hooper’s 21st minute strike settled a lot of
nerves around Celtic Park, despite it still being goalless in the Camp Nou.
Those nerves swiftly returned after Ari scored with a clever
chip over the onrushing Fraser Forster six minutes before the break. As thing
stood, Celtic would not be qualifying as Benfica were still holding the group
leaders to a 0-0 draw.
As we entered the final 10 minutes, there was now a feeling
that Celtic would have to score in order to progress, as the Benfica game look
destined to finish goalless.
Then with nine minutes to go, a great touch on his chest
from Samaras, allowed him to step past the Spartak defender Marek Suchy, who
then fouled the Greek to give Celtic a penalty.
This was smashed down the middle from Kris Commons to send
Celtic fans into hysterics. Spartak’s Kallstrom was then sent off to make
Celtic’s task a bit more straight forward. We qualified and could look forward
to playing the last 16 for the first time in five years.
NUMBER 3: Spartak
2 Celtic 3
At last, finally, Celtic had won
away from home in the Champions League!
19 times Celtic had traveled away
from home in this competition and never won.
Quite fitting that the timing of
the winning goal was in injury time, the same way in which we had lost so many
of our previous outings.
The game had started well with
Gary Hooper giving us the lead in the 12 minute, converting
Lustig’s cross with a brilliant touch to find the bottom corner. Then two goals
either side of half-time from Emenike put Spartak in front.
Celtic responded well to going
behind and the 63rd-minute dismissal of Juan Insaurralde, gave Celtic’s
travelling support some belief.
After a clever move from Celtic,
Gary Hooper played the ball into the path of James Forrest, who seen his shot
saved but then rebounded in by Dmitri Kombarov to restore parity.
minute, a cross from Emilio Izaguirre was expertly headed into the far corner
by Samaras to give Celtic a famous win.
Neil Lennon was full of praise at
full-time: “I'm probably the proudest man in
Europe tonight. I cannot speak highly enough of the players. They were
magnificent at a very tough venue against an excellent side.”
NUMBER 2 Display and atmosphere against Barcelona
I considered lumping this in with
the actual result of beating Barcelona, but the atmosphere was so good I think
it deserves a place on its own.
The day after Celtic celebrated
their 125 anniversary, we welcomed the mighty Barcelona to Celtic
Park. As far as birthday guests go, it doesn't get much bigger. It’s like
inviting Rihanna to be a stripper at your 21, or getting Craig
Whyte to come along to do stand-up, mass excitement.
Full credit must be given to the
Green Brigade for the effort they went to, to put together such a breath-taking
With Barcelona coming to town
there was excitement in the air anyway, this was Celtic’s biggest game of the
season. The best team in the world were coming to Glasgow.
The excitement was only added to
by the full-stadium display which would have been broadcasted around the world.
The atmosphere throughout the game
will be something I never forget. The feeling of jubilation taking a two-goal
lead at home to the Catalan giants was brilliant.
The night was always going to be
special, the display, atmosphere and result meant the game will live long in
ever Celtic fan’s memory.
I’m sure this is the choice that
most Celtic fans would've picked as their single highlight of the Champions
League this year.
I mentioned the atmosphere
earlier, so I won’t go into too much detail about that again.
We went into the game as
underdogs. This was before the team picked by Lennon would include the
omissions of our leading scorer, Gary Hooper, club captain Scott Brown, James
Forrest and Emilio Izagurrie.
Even with a weakened team, we were
ruthless and showed brilliant tenacity.
Celtic, against all odds, took the
lead in the 21st minute when Victor Wanyama powered over Marc Bartra to send a
towering header past Victor Valdes in the Barcelona goal.
After being part of the pre-match
full stadium display, the Celtic fans raised the noise which would have
intimidated even the most experienced players.
From that point on, it was attack
after attack from the Catalan giants. But as Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville put
it, “It was controlled defending by Celtic”
Towards the end of the match,
Barcelona turned to their bench and made three changes. Cue 60,000 gulps. Cesc
Fabregas, David Villa and Gerard Pique all came on. But it was Celtic’s
substitute, 18-year-old Tony Watt, who would make the headlines.
A long ball from Fraser Forster
was mistimed by Xavi, and Watt ran through and finished like he had been doing
it at this level for years.
This sparked celebration in the
stand like I have never seen before – sheer jubilation.
Despite a late goal from Lionel
Messi, Celtic held on to the result that will live long in the memory. This was
a brilliant night for Celtic and the whole of Scottish football.
This was not a difficult choice
for my number one highlight.
Hope you enjoyed reading my
highlights, feel free to tweet me yours. @Kieran_Psyl