Celtic are tantalisingly close to the last 16 of Champions League football. This is a fact that very few believed possible when the draw for the group stages was made – Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow and Celtic. I believe one national news agency commented ‘Bye Bye Celtic’. Well, well. What happened?
Celtic stood tall, believed and showed unreserved grit and determination not to be overwhelmed by the occasion. Barcelona are the greatest team in the world. Celtic took the lead against the Catalan giants not once but twice. The 94th minute at the Nou Camp – I believe was a heartbreaking but essential lesson. The duration of that game proved that Celtic could do it, they could hold their own not only away from home in Europe but on the biggest stage in European football! To lose that goal at that point emphasised that one momentary lapse in concentration at this level and you will be punished. It’s easy for Neil Lennon to say those words and for the players to listen but now it’s real and it happened. Now Celtic have belief and humility.
The game against Benfica tonight is winnable. Every game is. However, there’s not one player I could single out and say that they are the reason for the progress to date. It’s this team that are special and the spirit that is running through it. From Forster to Samaras, every single area of the pitch has been tirelessly covered. There’s one common commitment that is evident from the backroom to the pitch and that is the commitment to make Celtic be the best they can possibly be.
You can’t put a price on passion, it was always going to take time to adjust and translate but I don’t think we’ve seen the half of it.
At this point last year Celtic were 15 points behind their nearest domestic rivals and European football post Christmas was to become a pipe dream but that dream never died and here we are.
In the heat of Lisbon….