Champions League, Celtic Win over Barca Is Nothing, Yet Everything
When Celtic won a corner in the 21st minute of their Group G Champions League match, many of the Glasgow attendees hoped for, but few expected, what came of it. Charlie Mulgrew sent the ball into play, and Victor Wanyama headed it home.
Before the eruption of cheers subsided, the dread began. The Hoops were not playing just anybody; their opponent was Barcelona. The moment seemed eerily akin to another group game played at Camp Nou, when Celtic also took an early lead.
If it is possible to hold one's breath for over an hour, some of The Hoops faithful surely accomplished that feat. Then, in the 81st minute, Tony Watt gave the home side the insurance it was craving. Watt won the race to a long ball and drove a shot past Victor Valdes for a 2-0 lead.
The city of Glasgow began to believe.
As it turned out, the 18-year-old Watt did indeed provide insurance, because Lionel Messi found pay dirt to cut the lead to 2-1 in stoppage time.
So, how did Celtic do it? What was their improbable blueprint for bringing down the great Barca?
As it turns out, Celtic did not discover any easily repeated formula. They pretty much played the match straight up, and simply took better advantage of their fewer opportunities.
Barca controlled possession. The number was even higher than their usual at 84 percent.
The Celtic players maintained a disciplined shape, for the most part, but not within a defensive shell. They played their game. After the first few minutes, they stopped chasing Barca's deep possession, and opted to let the attack come to them, but it was not a true defensive shell.
The Catalans clearly created more opportunities, as evidenced by their 25 shots, with eight on target. Celtic, in comparison, only put three on target, and two of those three ended up in the back of the net.
That, perhaps, is the non-tactical formula for beating a superior team. It is the same formula employed during what has been called the greatest World Cup shocker, when in 1950 the U.S. men's national team surprised the far superior English side.
The formula is to strike early on your first real chance, then put the match in the hands of your keeper and hope he has a career night. That is what Celtic did, and goalkeeper, Fraser Forster, responded in kind.
The Celtic Park woodwork might need some touch-up paint after this one, as those crossbars and posts did their part as well.
This is why this result means nothing.
This result was not completely based on luck. After all, Celtic nearly got a point at Camp Nou a couple weeks back, and currently holds the second spot in Group G. However, this result is not likely to be replicated anytime soon.
Not to be the bearer of bad tidings, but Celtic is simply something less than a contender. They are a very good side, and now likely to go through into the knockout rounds. They are good enough to beat a better opponent there, even over the span of a home-and-home aggregate series.
They are not good enough to do it four times in a row.
Which is why, for Celtic and their fans, this result means everything. This match was their European championship.
The fact that it came 24 hours after the club celebrated its 125th anniversary is nostalgia-dipped icing on their Scotch trifle.
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