Home » Champ League, Latest » CL Match Report:Celtic 0 Barcelona 1

When Group H, the only section ever to feature four former winners, emerged from the Champions League draw last month, Celtic were presented with the football equivalent of an assault on the North Face of the Eiger.

After Tuesday night’s proceedings in the east end of Glasgow, Neil Lennon’s players were left still struggling for any sort of hold on the rock and had lost a crampon in the form of their inspirational captain, Scott Brown, for a flick of his boot at Neymar after he had fouled the Brazilian as the hour mark approached.

The contest was abruptly tilted against Celtic at the very point that the game had opened out with a high-pressure zone developing to the front of Victor Valdes’s penalty area. The risk was that the Scottish champions could be skewered on the counter­attack, and they were – though not in the manner anticipated.

Neymar was sprung free inside the Celtic half and was tracked by Brown, who finally tripped the Brazilian for a foul that deserved a caution but was seemingly transformed into a straight red by the extra, needless application of the Celtic captain’s boot.

If Brown had been goaded by the endless tendency of Neymar to go to ground at the brush of a shadow – a disfiguring characteristic in a player so abundantly gifted – he cannot escape the fact that his impulsive gesture cost his team their chance of securing another extraordinary result against the Catalan masters.

Worse still, because of suspension he can now have no influence on Celtic’s next fixture in this tournament, the home match with Ajax, who drew 1-1 at home to AC Milan on Tuesday night, which Lennon’s players must win to have a realistic chance of extending their campaign to the Europa League, which is now their best hope of maintaining a continental interest beyond Christmas.

To paraphrase Roy Keane on the similar occasion involving Nani and Real Madrid last season, Brown offered the referee the chance to send him off but Stéphane Lannoy’s decision was not as decisive as the consequences. The French referee reached first for the yellow card but, as he was hectored by the Barcelona players, then produced the red.

Celtic, forced to pull back to the trenches in front of Fraser Forster’s goal, kept the blaugrana out for another quarter of an hour, but the odds now heaped against them were confirmed by a late substitution, when the relatively anonymous Pedro was replaced by Alexis Sánchez.

Within a minute Neymar sent the Chilean scampering free to hang a cross towards the heart of the area, where Cesc Fàbregas hung in the air before looping his header beyond the exposed Forster to finally silence the most cacophonous crowd in Europe. It was, for the second group stage game in succession, a harsh outcome from a Celtic perspective.

Lennon was upset by the red card shown to Brown, insisting his side had been better to that point.

“I’m not convinced,” he said. “Any contact that was made was minimal. It’s in front of the referee but there’s a lot else going on out there. It changed the game.”

However, Lennon had plenty of positives to reflect on. He added: “I can’t speak highly enough of the players. We’ve had two chances right before they score. There’s a great save from Valdes and then Charlie

[Mulgrew] should score if I’m honest. I don’t remember [goalkeeper Fraser Forster] having a lot to do until the game got stretched at the end.

For all the imbalance in resources between the sides, it was a remarkable fact that the interval arrived with the balance of the game closely resembling the situation at the same stage when the sides met at the same venue last November.

Barcelona had far more possession but of the four direct attempts on goal, Celtic had delivered two, one of which saw Valdes do well to block from Georgios Samaras.

At the other end of the field, on the verge of half-time, Fàbregas struck an angled free-kick just under the crossbar, but Forster responded to his manager’s call for decisive interventions with a strong parry to send the whipped ball wide of the mark.

Of the compensatory positives Celtic can draw from this encounter, the contribution of Forster is the most vivid.

His extraordinary double save from Alexis and the full-stretch block to deny Neymar when the forward broke clear in the dying moments must compel the scrutiny of Roy Hodgson.

As always with English players operating north of the border, there are those who cannot believe that their playing environment represents a rigorous test of their abilities.

Forster, though, produces regular heroics at the level of the best tournament in the world and, feeling that he has yet to convince, was sorely tempted by Benfica’s interest in him this summer.

Source: Telegraph

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