Neil Lennon's team have secured their place in history with an astonishing victory over the Catalan giants on a night that will never be forgottenANALYSIS
By Chris Myson
This week Celtic are celebrating their 125th anniversary. It has been an illustrious history that has now spanned one-and-a-quarter centuries, but there have not been many victories which will be remembered as fondly as this one.
Yes, the Glasgow giants have won the European Cup before but Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over Barcelona, containing players widely acknowledged as one of the best groups of all-time, has to rank right alongside their greatest-ever triumphs.
Two weeks ago it looked like Neil Lennon’s side had heartbreakingly missed the opportunity to make their mark against the Camp Nou stars when they were pegged back after taking an early lead and conceded a last-gasp winning goal to Jordi Alba.
On Wednesday night though, the tables were turned. This time, Alba was on losing end of a key personal duel when Victor Wanyama powered above him to head home a first-half opener.
It seemed inevitable that the pain of two weeks ago was going to repeat itself as Barca’s magicians continued to dominate possession, hitting the woodwork twice in the opening 45 minutes and forcing the brilliant Fraser Forster into a number of key saves.
After the break the pattern was unchanged but the hosts continued to hold firm and with every passing minute the belief began to grow – the impossible dream really could happen.
Then it was ecstasy with seven minutes to go when Xavi failed to deal with a long clearance and youngster Tony Watt ran on to produce a remarkably composed finish past Victor Valdes.
That it was Watt who scored the decisive goal summed up the gulf in class between the two sides and the magnitude of Celtic’s achievement.
The 18-year-old - barely recognised by football fans outside of Scotland - was playing in the Scottish Second Division with Airdrie United just over a year ago, yet he capitalised on a mistake from one of world football’s greats.
Even then the euphoric feeling wasn’t to last for long on an unbelievable evening. Lionel Messi struck in the 91st minute to ensure Celtic fans would be made to suffer right up until the final whistle.
The end to the game finally arrived after an agonising four minutes of injury time and even the joyous scenes on the pitch were overshadowed by stunning celebrations around the famous Celtic Park stadium.
From Neil Lennon jumping on his exhausted players, to Rod Stewart bursting into tears as he watched from the stands, this is a night nobody connected with Celtic will ever forget.
On a day that started on a sour note when Hearts were issued with a winding-up order over an unpaid tax bill, the unbelievable victory for Celtic summed up the ups and downs of Scottish football.
But there have been few highs that are as sweet as this. Lennon and his players have secured their own place in history and who is to say how far they can now go.
They have beaten Barcelona and no team will fancy a trip to a Glasgow, facing the club’s deafening supporters as well as the brave players on the pitch, if the Hoops are to take their place in the knock-out stages.
Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta & Co. are legends of the game but in the likes of Forster, Wanyama and Watt, Celtic fans have their own heroes.
Man for man, nobody in green and white let themselves down and the plaudits coming their way in the days, months and years ahead will be thoroughly deserved.
Celtic have beaten Barcelona. It is a result that may never sink in properly. The side who have won two of the last four Champions Leagues came and saw but were conquered.
The success must be enjoyed and has to be savoured because even in another 125 years, it will be hard for the Celtic to achieve a feat as great as this again.