By Craig Turnbull
If Celtic ever wanted to make the ‘12th man’ advantage count, then, Wednesday night against Barcelona would seem like a good time to do it.
Celtic Park is infamous for its incredible atmosphere on Champions League evenings and it will be a cauldron bubbling with noise when the Catalan giants are the visitors. One man who can testify to the difference the crowd makes on these special nights is former star Bobby Petta.
The 38-year-old played for the Hoops back in the 2001-02 campaign and was part of the side that produced not only the 1-0 win over Porto, but also the incredible 4-3 victory over Juventus, though, it was still not enough to prevent Celtic exiting the competition before Christmas.
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“It is an amazing feeling, especially in an Old Firm match but definitely in Europe, the Champions League is the pinnacle of any player’s career,” Petta said.
“There’s a special atmosphere when playing at Parkhead. Most of the teams that come to Glasgow on a European night say they’ve never experienced anything like it anywhere else.
“When you’re sitting in the dressing room and you can hear the crowd around you, it gives you nerves but in a good way. It gives you that extra motivation to do well and makes you feel good.
“You have the support of the fans and it’s that the type of atmosphere you want to play in. The bigger the name you play against the better.”
The winger, who had spells with Fulham and Ipswich, knows Neil Lennon’s men will have their work cut out as they are missing stars Emilio Izaguirre, Thomas Rogne, James Forrest and Lassad Nouioui while Gary Hooper remains doubtful.
“It’s going to be difficult, Celtic are missing many key players,” he added.
“Lennon has a job on his hands, Barcelona have the best players, they’re always going to create chances. No doubt though, it will be a great occasion and a great atmosphere.”
The Hoops have already given their fans something to shout about, as few would have envisaged Neil Lennon’s men lying in the qualifying position for the next round at the midway point of the group stage.
A hard-fought 0-0 draw with Benfica was followed up by a fantastic performance in Moscow against Spartak, where they came from behind to record an unlikely 3-2 victory. It was their first away win in the group stages of the Champions League since the competition was reformed, putting an end to a miserable run of 21 games in Europe without a victory away from home.
Celtic took on Barcelona on Matchday 3 and, despite the gulf in class, an air of optimism surrounded the Parkhead faithful that they could may be pull off a remarkable result in Camp Nou – and they nearly did.
Giorgios Samaras’ header deflected off Javier Mascherano and past the helpless Victor Valdes who, like many others in the colours of Barcelona, seemed bemused by it all. However, Camp Nou erupted just before half-time when an unstoppable interchange from Xavi and Iniesta allowed the latter to restore parity. And it was to be heartbreak for the Celts who had battled admirably throughout the 90 minutes, only for wing-back Jordi Alba to find the bottom corner of the net late into stoppage time.
While it may not have been the result Lennon’s side wanted it, perhaps along with the Moscow victory, restored a bit of pride back into Scottish football with its image recently been battered both at club and international level - seemingly summed up by the way the Scottish Football Association handled the departure of manager Craig Levein whose disastrous reign came to an end on Monday.
The hosts can further extinguish the disappointment with an inspired performance against their illustrious opponents on Wednesday and, given their record at Celtic Park on the European stage, they ought to feel quietly confident that they can achieve a positive result.
In the 21 encounters at home, the Hoops have been able to see off some of Europe’s finest. However, perhaps troubling for Lennon’s side is the fact that the only team to have beaten them in the Champions League at home is tonight’s opponents – twice.
Petta insists if they are going to get anything out of the match, then, they need to exploit Barcelona’s defensive frailties from set-pieces.
“They have to take advantage of free-kicks, you could see that in the first game, Barcelona had a makeshift defence – they didn’t have much height,” Petta continued.
“I think that’s where they’ll have a chance to dominate. Barcelona have the best midfield and attack. But if Celtic want to try and get a result, then, it will have to come from dead-ball situations.”
The Dutch winger also believes Celtic have to be aware of the whole team and not only the threat new father, Lionel Messi possesses.
“You can’t just stop Messi either, you have to stop a few other players, David Villa will be one to watch, also Alexis Sanchez, Iniesta and Xavi will cause problems.
“Celtic will have to be really solid at the back and counter on the break. The game will be played mostly in their half and I think that is to be expected in a way.”
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Petta is under no illusions that any lapses in concentration against the Spanish giants will be punished.
“They have to believe in themselves, they have to stay awake because recently, they have slept in the last couple of minutes," he said.
“You’ve got to play like it’s the cup final and play until that final whistle is blown. They must keep working hard and be composed when that chance finally comes around, but it’s not going to be easy that’s for sure.
“However, whatever the result it’s a great occasion, it’s Celtic’s 125th anniversary and there are lots of things which will make the game very special.”
A victory on Wednesday against the Catalans would make the night even sweeter.
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