In an enthralling Group G encounter, Scotland's finest Celtic came so very close to a famous draw at Camp Nou as Jordi Alba's 94th minute winner stole all three points for much-fancied FC Barcelona in a 2-1 win.
While Celtic may not have ever truly dominated the run of play in Tuesday night's encounter in Catalonia, their performance was one chock full of bravery, determination and pure Celtic grit. Put ahead by a Giorgos Samaras header via Javier Mascherano's unfortunate touch, the Scottish champions led until the stroke of half-time.
Barça's first goal was a goal representing all that the Spanish side are famous for—deft, accurate passing with lightning pace, culminating in a lunging flick from Andres Iniesta after excellent work from himself, midfield colleague Xavi and an unusually quiet Lionel Messi.
Yet until Alba ghosted in behind substitute James Forrest to seal the victory for the hosts, Barcelona underwhelmed for much of the game. Throughout the 90 minutes, Barcelona's trademark passing style was oftentimes sloppy and ineffective. While the visitors barely saw the ball—Barcelona boasted a staggering 90 percent possession—many of their tactically sound attacks failed because passes were too easily intercepted, or too inaccurate and unable to find their target.
Another cause for Barcelona's torment in the final third was a stout Celtic defence; but more than anyone, Celtic's goalkeeper Fraser Forster had an astounding game. The hosts, with 26 attempts on goal (13 on target) to Celtic's 4, regularly bombarded the Scots' goal with efforts of all kinds. Yet Forster was nothing short of a colossus for much of the game.
The highlight for him will assuredly be two stunning reflex saves in the second half, one of which was a goal-bound Messi effort from within 10 yards.
Celtic were by no means perfect, and it would be a real struggle to convince anyone that the Hoops deserved all three points. Yet still, when Celtic went forward it was with a genuine confidence and vigour which must have taken the Catalonians aback. Charlie Mulgrew was time and again the architect of any Scottish forays from the flanks, and while Barcelona were mostly solid at the back, Celtic certainly had their opportunities to trouble the hosts' back four.
Barcelona were also fielding quite the depleted side, with defensive regulars Dani Alves, Gerard Pique and captain Carles Puyol, dislocated elbow and all, all absent. Sergio Busquets too watched from the sidelines, serving the first of his two-game suspension; filling in was the largely unimpressive Alex Song.
While this will not be a cause for concern going forward—Barcelona do boast a perfect record in Group G halfway through the opening stages—Tito Vilanova's men will doubtless have to be sharper in order to take all three points at what is likely to be a packed and hostile Celtic Park in a fortnight's time.
Celtic, on the other hand, suffered a truly cruel blow at the hands of Jordi Alba tonight. Their path to the knockout stage is far more clouded, with both Spartak Moscow and Benfica both perfectly able to qualify.
Despite the late heartbreak, the men in green and white have every reason to take heart from their attacking display at Camp Nou. On this basis, perhaps they'll take a greater share of the spoils when their conquerors attempt to storm Celtic Park on Nov. 7.
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