By Chris Myson
It was a tie they admitted was a dream just to play in. They came to Barcelona, they saw, but heartbreakingly, they didn't quite conquer.
But despite the nightmare ending, Celtic leave Camp Nou having proven both they and Scottish football belong in the Champions League.
After Javier Mascherano’s own goal in the first half, Neil Lennon’s celebration on the touchline was a mix of excitement and disbelief – for a while it looked like a famous victory was on the cards.
Andres Iniesta capped off a marvellous move to equalise on the stroke of half-time in what should have marked the beginning of the end for Celtic’s resistance.
It didn't, though. As Barca upped the ante in the second half, Celtic became even tougher, one step quicker, much calmer under pressure relied less on instinct, while a number of impressive individual moments kept the score level at vital times.
Fraser Forster was absolutely outstanding. Two of his saves in particular, both from Lionel Messi, were staggering. One was a point-blank stop from the Argentine’s close-range effort, while the other was more eye-catching, a stunning dive to his left to divert a header wide of the post.
Forster, now part of Roy Hodgson's England squad, aside, Efe Ambrose was a sublime combination of strength and composure in the centre of defence, Scott Brown battled through the pain barrier to produce an inspiring performance, Joe Ledley and Victor Wanyama did their jobs in front of the back four and Gary Hooper never stopped running, despite being a lonely figure in attack.
|CAMP NOU PAIN
|Read our match report as Celtic come within seconds of securing a famous draw against Barcelona at Camp Nou|
Despite the amazing work they put in, Celtic’s overriding feeling will almost certainly be heartbreak – Jordi Alba's late goal was a body blow for the players, Lennon and the thousands of fans scattered in various positions around the stadium.
It is not like Celtic haven’t enjoyed famous European nights in the not-too-distant past. Since the turn of the century they have beaten Juventus and Manchester United. They even knocked Barcelona, themselves, out of the Europa League eight years ago.
But this Barca side are lauded as one of the greatest of all time and Lennon’s men stood manfully against Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and the stars of world football, doing more than just holding their own. A positive result would have made Tuesday night one the club would never forget.
That may not have happened, but one thing Celtic have, against the odds, made the rest of Britain and the rest of Europe sit up and notice them.
After a four-year absence they have been excellent on their Champions League return, drawing with Benfica and beating Spartak Moscow, previous results which mean they are still in with a fighting chance of reaching the knockout stages, despite being written off as also-rans when the draw was made.
Scottish football may have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons over the summer with the financial demise of Rangers, but now Celtic have done the country proud with a magnificent showing on one of football’s grandest stages.
A famous club are now back at football’s top table and an exciting young team can make their mark on Europe both this season and beyond.
Lennon will be unbelievably proud of his players despite missing out on a result that could have defined his early managerial career. If he can lift them and get similar performances out of his Celtic side, their next special moment will not be far away. Possibly at Parkhead in a fortnight's time.