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If only Celtic had kept cool, Barcelona were there for the taking

By Steven Beacom

There was plenty of thunder from the Celtic fans, but lightning didn't strike twice at Parkhead.

Last year's stunning Champions League victory for the Hoops over mighty Barcelona remains one of the greatest results in Celtic's history.

Last night's 1-0 defeat will go down as one of those 'if only' evenings.

If only Scott Brown had not got himself stupidly sent off.

If only Charlie Mulgrew had headed into the net instead of inches wide when a glorious opportunity presented itself with the tie scoreless.

And if only Cesc Fabregas had been substituted before he scored the only goal of the game – which Barcelona were planning to do.

Harsh as it sounds given the opposition they have faced, the problem for Celtic is that this season's Champions League campaign is in danger of becoming all about if onlys.

It was the same against AC Milan in the San Siro when Neil Lennon's team, having played extremely well and dominated for long periods, somehow contrived to lose 2-0.

Celtic are in a tough group, but Lennon's aim entering it was for his players to do what they did last time and reach the last 16.

With two losses out of two, it's likely they'll have to find three wins from their remaining four matches to be in with a shout.

Celtic won't be victorious in the Nou Camp meaning they must beat Ajax home and away and Milan at Parkhead.

Improbable, but not yet impossible, leaving Celtic supporters with some hope in their hearts.

In those games though they really are going to have to take their chances and can't afford any rash decisions, like the one made by Brown last night.

While Barcelona were bossing the match and in control of the ball (remarkably they had 82 per cent of possession in the first half) and Celtic were on that 'carousel' Sir Alex Ferguson once talked about, the visitors weren't hurting the Glasgow outfit where it matters.

With Celtic's centre-backs Efe Ambrose and Virgil van Dijk in fine form, the Catalan giants were lacking a killer touch and missing the magic of Lionel Messi. No one was pulling any rabbits out of the hat for Barca.

Then came the moment of madness from Brown just before the hour. He fouled a galloping Neymar, which would have earned him a booking, but made things worse by aiming a sly and needless kick at the Brazilian as he fell to the turf. Yes, Neymar made the most of it, but Brown was to blame.

Playing against 10 men it was only a matter of time before Barcelona, even if they weren't anywhere near their fluent best, would exploit that.

They did when Neymar cut the defence open with a pass to substitute Alexis Sanchez, who delivered a cross for Fabregas to clinically head into the net with 14 minutes left.

The frustrating thing for Celtic is that they should have been ahead by then.

The atmosphere inside the ground was again magnificent, but it became louder, louder and louder still following Brown's red card with the supporters doing all they could to inspire their team.

Lifted by the wall of noise, James Forrest forced a fantastic save from Victor Valdes and then from the resulting corner Armagh native Lennon watched in agony as Mulgrew's free header failed to hit the target with the Barca keeper all at sea.

A couple of minutes later Fabregas, in line to be taken off, scored and the game was up for Celtic.

If only. As Lennon knows, if only doesn't cut it at this level.

Belfast Telegraph


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