In the past ten years there have been many memorable European nights at Celtic Park under Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan. In the O’Neill era, Celtic beat the likes of Barcelona, Juventus, Lyon, Porto, Valencia, and several more at Paradise (how Celtic Park is referred to by many of the home fans). Under the tutelage of Strachan, Celtic’s home record continued to be impressive with wins over Manchester United, AC Milan, Benfica, and Shakhtar Donetsk. However, those glorious days are past in the eyes of many. Celtic does not have the resources of these bigger clubs and countries. Celtic charge into battle underpowered and outgunned due to the financial climate of Scottish football. In the past decade the television money in Europe’s big leagues has come flooding in at an alarming rate. Multimillion dollar deals are concluded in the transfer windows at an alarming rate. Crazy wages are offered to the megastars of the world. Now, with the arrival of the oil rich tycoons from Russia and the Middle East, a new wave of money has arrived in the game. PSG, Chelsea, Zenit, Manchester City, and similar clubs, previously big clubs, but not huge, are buying their success at an alarming rate. All this while Celtic, and the rest of Scottish football, is dealing in free transfers, slashing wages, and shopping for bargains in the wilderness of world football trying to find a diamond that they can sell on for a profit.
Barcelona came out of the traps playing their flowing football that was a joy to behold and having Celtic camped 25 yards from goal. However, Celtic looked to be spritely on the counter and tried to get at the shaky center back partnership of Mascherano and Bartra. After 18 minutes the Celtic fans were baying for blood when Alex Song, cautioned after 10 minutes, pulled down a breaking Celtic midfielder. Any other player in the field would have received a yellow, but the referee decided against it. This anger was short lived as in the 20th minute Charlie Mulgrew whipped in a corner that was met by the man mountain that is Victor Wanyama, who powered home his header. The only chink in an otherwise flowing, flawless armor that is the Barcelona side is their lack of size and for the second game in a row Celtic exposed this. For the next hour Celtic barely got out their third of the field. Fraser Forster, using all of his 6 foot 7 inch frame to touch a Lionel Messi shot on to the bar and several other excellent stops sandwiched between Alexis Sanchez hitting the post. By the 80th minute, Celtic supporters were starting to believe this could be their day. The fans had played their part the whole night. Always encouraging. Continuous singing. Cheering anything positive. They were the 12th man! If the game was going to be won by someone, then everyone would have expected it to be arguably the greatest player to have played the game, Lionel Messi. His movement, pace, quality, and outright class was on show the whole night. Even under tight pressure from the whole Celtic team, he was able to create space, get off shots, and play penetrating passes. However, he would not steal the show. Tony Watt, only 18 years old and just one year ago was playing in Scotland’s 3rd tier, would be the one to break Barca hearts. It was a typical “Scottish” goal. A long punt from Forster, an uncharacteristic mistake by Xavi who let the ball bounce past him, and a great finish by Watt who reacted superbly to power past a static defense and slot the ball past the onrushing Victor Valdes. Paradise erupted. Barca scored in the 91st minute through Messi after a fantastic Forster stop, but they Catalans could not find that game tying goal.
Upon hearing the final whistle Celtic Park was a sea of celebrating bodies, a cauldron of noise, and a far less tense affair. The players and manager were greeted as heroes. All of this was topped off with a rendition of “Can we play you every week” directed at the world’s best team.