By Martin Macdonald
|GREATEST CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WIN EVER
Celtic battled for their greatest ever Champions League victory on Wednesday when they overcame seemingly impossible odds to defeat Spanish giants Barcelona 2-1 at Celtic Park.
In a week when the Hoops are celebrating their 125th anniversary, they could hardly have asked for a better birthday present than a win over the team that many consider to be the best on the planet.
The hosts took a first half lead through a Victor Wanyama header and managed to make it to half time, improving on the previous match at the Camp Nou when they conceded just before the break. Tony Watt put them in dreamland with an 83rd minute strike, a goal that proved to be crucial as Lionel Messi pulled one back for the Catalans one minute from time.
The pre-match festivities featured a mind-blowing stadium display commemorating the 125 years that the Celts have been an official football club, and it was Barcelona who got the match underway to deafening noise from the home crowd.
Typically, Barca dominated the possession for the majority of the match, but they were unable to pick out incisive passes through the formidable Celtic defence in the opening stages. Neil Lennon’s side capitalised 21 minutes in when Wanyama out-jumped and outfought Jordi Alba at the back post to power in Charlie Mulgrew’s fantastic corner kick, which saw Celtic Park absolutely erupt in raucous celebrations.
The stadium continued to bounce with cheers, but the opening goal ignited the Spanish side into upping their game. Messi came within inches of putting his side on equal terms on the half-hour mark when he swivelled sharply inside the area and struck a shot towards the top corner, only to see Celtic hero Fraser Forster tip the ball onto the bar with a world class save.
It was nervous moments for the home side again just before the break when Alexis Sanchez broke away to the back post and directed an angled header towards goal, but luckily for the Bhoys, the attempt bounced off the outside of the post.
Barcelona came out the blocks quickly in the second period, and spent a vast amount of time in the final third trying to find a way through the green and white wall of the Hoops defence, but inspired defending and goalkeeping kept the Catalans at bay.
Forster continued his heroics from matchday three with a string of wonderful saves in the second half. The pick of the bunch came when Messi latched on to a loose ball inside the area and fired a shot towards the bottom right corner, but the Englishman stretched out a solid hand to deny the Argentine.
As if his display between the sticks wasn’t enough, Forster grabbed a Champions League assist when he punted the ball up the park for Watt, and the 18-year-old substitute took advantage of a mistake from Xavi to burst through on goal and lash a strike into the bottom corner.
The resulting scenes in Celtic Park will live long in the memory as 60,000 fans exploded with cheers and relief as they realised that they were close to a historic victory.
Never ones for an anti-climactic finish, the Glasgow side conceded one minute before the final whistle when Messi finished off a neat Barca move at the back post with an accomplished finish, ensuring a truly nail-biting last couple of minutes for the home fans.
However, Celtic managed to hold on for the 2-1 victory and claim the three points in a win that is certainly one of their best in an illustrious 125 years.
|LENNON: ONE OF OUR GREATEST EVER NIGHTS
Celtic manager Neil Lennon has hailed his side’s victory over Barcelona as one of the greatest moments in the club’s 125 year history, and also an unbelievable achievement for himself and his players.
Goals from Victor Wanyama and Tony Watt sealed a sensational win over the Spanish giants on matchday four of the Champions League group stage, and the Irishman was understandably beaming at the triumph. Speaking to journalists after the match, he said:
“I think it´s one of the greatest nights in the club´s recent history and very poignant on our 125th anniversary. To play Barcelona in such a prestigious game and then win the game under huge difficulties with the squad decimated by injuries and illness - the players are heroes, they are heroes to me.
"I can´t speak highly enough of their performances tonight and they will go down in the history books as the side that beat probably the best team in the world.”
Halfway through the second half, Barca coach Tito Vilanova introduced three Spanish World Cup winners into the action, Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique, and David Villa, whilst Lennon introduced 18-year-old Watt around the same time. The Hoops boss could not praise the youngster enough for his contribution. He said:
“It´s a phenomenal thing he´s done so early in his career. I would have had no hesitation in playing him but we just felt with his lack of experience that it would have been too much to put him in the starting line-up. But he has come on and did everything we asked him to do.
“The kid is learning and again he has written himself into the club´s history books. He is 11 games into his career and I hope he has a fruitful one but it will take some topping to do what he has done tonight."
Despite his praise for the team’s performance, Lennon was quick to remind everyone that the job is not done yet, and that they must strive to claim points in their two remaining matches against Benfica and Spartak Moscow. He said:
“That’s all it´s given us, a greater chance than maybe we expected before the game. We still have two very difficult games. The problems the players and myself will have to deal with now is that the expectation level will increase.
“But that´s for the future. I want my players to enjoy the moment and take it all in.”
|NEXT MATCH: ST JOHNSTONE VISIT PARKHEAD
Euphoria and adrenaline will still be running through Celtic’s veins this weekend, but the Scottish Premier League champions, who toppled the mighty Barcelona on Wednesday, are back to league duty on Sunday as they welcome St Johnstone to Parkhead.
Victor Wanyama and Tony Watt sealed a historic win for the Hoops against the Catalans midweek, but with just a short lead at the top of the table, they will need to make sure they can take this form into their league duties.
A late strike from Gary Mackay-Steven and an own goal from Efe Ambrose stunned the Hoops in the last league game with Dundee United, as the Tannadice side scored two in two minutes in the dying minutes of the match to earn a 2-2 draw.
Legs are sure to be weary, minds are sure to be full of emotion, but the Celtic players must aim to overcome any fatigue to try and claim three points against Steve Lomas’ side this weekend.