The mainsteamers may well use the cliches, the heartbreak, the brave show, or even just plain unlucky. Celtic went to the hardest place on the planet to try to get a result tonight, and came away with immense credit after a performance that has let Europe know that we have a bloody good side that can play a bit. The youngsters, who grew up in Moscow a couple of weeks ago, are beginning to mature.
Georgios Samaras rose to meet a Charlie Mulgrew free kick after just eighteen minutes, and with the aid of a deflection, Celtic were one up. For twenty five or so minutes, the organisation, the effort and the spirit of the Celtic side managed to not only keep the Catalan giants at bay, but force them wide, make them pause and turn back, or even just take the ball off them. Then, with just thirty seconds to go to the break, arguably the three best players in the world combined (Messi, Iniesta and Xavi), and cut through the Celtic defence with lightning speed and accuracy for one of those trademark special goals. And it had to be special. Nothing else would have breached the thin green line.
Still, 1-1 at half time, and lets face it, you’d have took that when the game started.
If the clock seemed to tick by slowly in the first half, it looked like it had stopped in the second. With Samaras turning his ankle and being removed late in the first period, Celtic had to reshuffle and alter the game plan. James Forrest was a willing enough replacement, causing a few problems, but they were of a different kind than the ones caused by the big Greek. He was a target for long diagonal high balls, which he could flick on. Instead, Forrest had to just run, and hope that someone would join him. He won a free kick when he was crudely brought down, but it came to nothing, and a rare corner saw Wanyama head wide, but they were just brief respites from the Barcelona onslaught.
Well, just under a thousand passes, and at least 140% of the possession made it seem that way, but they didn’t really raise the tempo, just plugging away patiently, as they do, though with ten minutes or so left, they actually played a corner directly into the box. Suddenly they seemed to have run out of ideas, frustrated by the dogged defence of the Scottish champions.
Celtic were starting to tire, but still there was a leg, or a foot, or just a body in the way. Or a goalkeeper. A great big goalkeeper who seemed even bigger than his six foot seven frame. Five, six, seven great saves during the game. Alan Pardew, who wished him good luck at a lower level must be kicking himself.
Even when the clock appeared to go into reverse, with the ref adding on four minutes injury time, it looked like the unthinkable could actually happen-a draw in the Camp Nou-okay, another draw in the Camp Nou, but you get my point. A thoroughly deserved draw at that.
But, European football is rarely kind to Celtic, and even though it wasn’t a dive from Nicola Amoruso this time it felt exactly the same as that night in Turin, when a crossed ball finally eluded the Celtic defenders and was bundled over the line in the ninety fourth minute. Barcelona had scored a second, and they celebrated like they had won the cup itself.
For so long tonight Celtic played a superb game. They stuck to their jobs, they worked together and none of us could have asked for more. After the game, manager Neil Lennon talked of his pride in his charges. It was more than justified. His team had , even in defeat, moved up another level. They will learn from this. They will get better.
Before the game, there was that worry that we might get beaten heavily. That never looked like happening. Well, alright, maybe it did now and then, but the Celts rose to the occasion. Lennon had laid out his game plan, and the players stuck to it. Man of the match? There were fourteen of them. Playing as one.
Barcelona will be in Glasgow on the next matchday, and they might just get a surprise . Except after tonight, it might not be that much of a surprise.