By Allan Edgar
Barcelona in 14 competitive matches under new coach Tito Vilanova: 13 wins and a single home draw to Real Madrid. The Catalan giants arrived in Glasgow on the back of a victory over Celta Vigo which equalled the record points haul after ten matches in La Liga. Suffice to say, 125th anniversary or not, hosts Celtic were given little hope going into the match.
As a Celtic fan, I wasn’t nervous going into the match - I soaked up the atmosphere in the ‘fanzone’ in Glasgow in the afternoon looking forward to a festival of football later in the evening. When the draw was made, I bargained for nothing from two ties against a side whom I’ve been fortunate enough to see a handful of times home and away - they truly are a footballing phenomenon.
Just over two weeks ago, Celtic were tantalisingly close to a point at the catherdal of football, the famous Camp Nou. Jordi Alba’s scruffy late goal gave Barcelona what was, in hindsight, a deserved win for a team who not only dominated possession but created a number of clear-cut chances to be denied by Fraser Forster.
Barcelona had won the last two of their visits to Parkhead in recent years and as if the task didn’t seem tough enough; Celtic were missing three key players including captain Scott Brown and talisman Gary Hooper.
Like any good film script worth its salt; the occasion had all the necessary pre-requisites.
Firstly, Barcelona are arguably the greatest club side to have ever played the game. Current coach Tito Vilanova replaced Pep Guardiola in the summer as Barcelona continue their recent policy of promoting from within. Barcelona haven’t so much changed how the game is played, rather they have refined a philosophy of football which has roots in the Dutch ‘total football’ developed by Rinus Michels and imported to Catalonia by the legendary Johann Cruyff.
There is no mistake about it, Barça were the star attraction in Glasgow.
Secondly, the match had context. Celtic celebrated their 125th anniversary the day before the match. On Tuesday evening, the club’s current custodians and members returned to St. Mary’s in Calton where they were formed 125 years ago to the day. They took part in a small service at the spiritual home of Celtic who were formed originally as an entity to feed the poor of Glasgow’s East End.
Coincidence or fate, however you would prefer to see it, ruled that Celtic would take on the biggest side in the world on the day after that special anniversary.
Ahead of the match, the most vocal of Celtic Park’s supporters - the Green Brigade - had raised funds and prepared a stadium-wide display to mark the occasion as the teams were welcomed out the tunnel by just under 60,000 fans. The end result was quite incredible, a mass of colour adorning the Celtic cross and ‘125 Celtic’ on the sprawling North Stand.
Thirdly, perhaps most importantly, the occasion had what seemed like unbearable tension and drama. Whilst Barcelona were by no means at their scintillating best last night, when on the ball the home fans were just waiting for that moment . The mesmerising movement of the ball from left to right and back again, continually probing for weakness in the Celtic back-line was difficult to watch particularly having seen this pattern of play drive Barca to domestic and European success over the last four years.
Victor Wanyama’s headed goal for Celtic on 21 minutes sent an already charged atmosphere into overdrive but most sober-thinking Celtic fans would have still rated the chances of taking a point, never mind the full complement, as slim. Bear in mind, Celtic had taken the lead in Barcelona but left empty-handed on the previous matchday.
The remaining 25 minutes of the half saw Barcelona return to their patient approach with Messi thundering a volley against the crossbar and the deceivingly powerful Alexis Sanchez clipping the post with a neat header. Celtic avoided the dreaded equaliser and had gone further than they had at Camp Nou.
It didn’t feel like Celtic were halfway home given Barcelona’s penchant for late goals; a significant 38% of the visitors total goals this season had come in the last 20 minutes of matches. A point was perhaps within sight.
Second-half underway, yet more Barcelona possession. Although Vilanova’s side were controlling the game, dominating even, it wasn’t quite the onslaught expected. The arrival of David Villa and Cesc Fabregas further higlighted the gulf in both ability and resources as Celtic called on 18-year-old Tony Watt.
Youngster Watt is becoming familiar to Celtic fans, signing for the club for a mere £80,000 and making a handful appearances at the end of the previous campaign and more in the new season. The local forward would write himself in the history books with his brief appearance on Wednesday though.
Goalkeeper Fraser Forster, himself a revelation in both ties, launched the ball forward with the normally flawless Xavi Hernandez of La Liga, Champions League, European Champions and World Cup fame missing the ball to allow the rookie striker in on the Barcelona goal. One touch to set himself and one to fire past Valdes into the net, Celtic’s second and final attempt on goal.
Celtic led 2-0 on 83 minutes, most fans in the stadium now believed what they were seeing. Personally, I was beginning to think the point was now within reach.
As if irked by the volume in the stadium, Lionel Messi popped up in stoppage-time to make it 2-1 and headed back to the centre-circle with only a muted celebration alluding to the birth of his son.
The Hoops had beaten the might of Barcelona. Celtic had an aggregate of 14.5% possession in the match according to UEFA and had two shots on goal in the match. It mattered not one jot to any Celtic fans in the stadium, outside or around the World.
Only Celtic fans will sit down, watch the match again and enjoy it. The momentous victory on the 125th anniversary of the club is quite fitting, it reminds Celtic fans of how great club was and remains to this day. It is clearly not the best result in the club’s history as has been hastily suggested, they have of course won the European Cup but for fans of my generation - it could easily be the most famous result we ever see.
Spanish newspaper Marca gave ‘man of the match’ to Celtic fans, however cheesy it may seem - they were quite something and it will live long in the memory of each and every fan who was fortunate enough to be a part of it.
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- mrcsalazar90 said: best of the best? sub par defending, horrible keeper and a 85% possession and lack of goals… yea they must be best of the best
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- nowimallovertheshop said: I was there that’s a great write up I weirdly also felt no nerves except injury time! One of Celtic’s greatest wins truly special
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