Celtic Glasgow 2-1 Barcelona
A PROUD Neil Lennon reckons Celtic´s breathtaking UEFA Champions League victory over Barcelona is one of the greatest moments in the club´s illustrious history.
One day after the club celebrated its 125th anniversary with a poignant service at St Mary´s church, the current crop of players turned in a stirring and heroic performance to overcome the Catalan giants 2-1 at Paradise.
Celtic have enjoyed many memorable moments over the past 125 years and this outstanding triumph over the team currently recognised as as the best in the world will rank easily among them.
Victor Wanyama had headed the Hoops into a first-half lead from Charlie Mulgrew´s corner.
Celtic had to withstand heavy pressure throughout the contest, with Fraser Forster producing some superb saves to keep the gifted visitors at bay. But they held firm and substitute Tony Watt´s breakaway strike sealed the win in the closing stages.
Although Lionel Messi caused a few nervy moments by scoring a consolation goal, the hosts held on for a magnificent three points in front of a delirious Celtic Park.
And the Celtic boss deflected all the praise on to his players for their heroic efforts.
“I think it´s one of the greatest nights in the club´s recent history and very poignant on our 125th anniversary,” said the manager. “To play Barcelona in such a prestigious game and then win the game under huge difficulties with the squad decimated by injuries and illness – the players are heroes, they are heroes to me.
“I can´t speak highly enough of their performances tonight and they will go down in the history books as the side that beat probably the best team in the world.
“Everyone goes on about tactics, but it´s about players. We took a bit of gamble not to go 4-5-1. We were thinking should we flood the midfield? But we felt we didn’t have enough pace in wide areas to counter-attack as well as we can.
“We put Miku just off Samaras as we felt he needed support sometimes and Miku did it perfectly. He also did his job defensively very well, as all the team did.
“So you can talk about tactics until you are blue in the face as far as I´m concerned. Football is about the players and they have covered themselves in glory tonight.
“If you look back on tonight, Barcelona had good chances and once again my goalkeeper was fantastic when I needed him to be,” he added. “He made some great saves. To beat Barcelona you need your goalkeeper to play well and the men in front of him to be disciplined and concentrated as they are working so hard.”
It was a fairytale story for Tony Watt. This time last year the teenager was starring for Celtic Under-19 side and now he can boast of scoring the winning goal against Barcelona.
“It´s a phenomenal thing he´s done so early in his career,” said the manager. “I would have had no hesitation in playing him but we just felt with his lack of experience that it would have been too much to put him in the starting line-up.
“But he has come on and did everything we asked him to do. He scored a brilliant goal and I felt we should have had a sending off when he got on the other side of Mascherano.
“The kid is learning and again he has written himself into the club´s history books. He is 11 games into his career and I hope he has a fruitful one but it will take some topping to do what he has done tonight.”
Courtesy of their astonishing win, Celtic now sit on seven points and remain in second place in the group, leaving them well-positioned to extend their European adventure. But much hard work remains, cautioned the manager.
“We have a chance,” he said. “That’s all it´s given us, a greater chance than maybe we expected before the game. We still have two very difficult games. The problems the players and myself will have to deal with now is that the expectation level will increase.
“There is still a lot to do in the group but we have given ourselves a fantastic platform. But that´s for the future. I want my players to enjoy the moment and take it all in.
“I have to commend the supporters as well tonight,” he added. “This is what Celtic is about. It makes the club so special. It´s one of the greatest arenas in European football and you saw all that tonight.”
And while Neil Lennon has accomplished much in his life and his professional career, he admitted nothing had bettered this.
“This is up there with anything I have ever done in my life,” added the Hoops boss. “Playing-wise, reaching the UEFA Cup final was pretty special and I had great times under Martin O´Neill and Gordon Strachan, making the last 16 here and beating Manchester United.
“But as a manager, I don´t know if I can top that. I hope I do. I hope I can progress as I am still young and still learning but it´s right up there with anything I have achieved in my football career and my life.”
FCB Coach Villanova:
We read the game well, we created a lot of chances but we weren’t on target and their keeper was brilliant.” Vilanova added: “We did what we needed to do in these types of games, we’ve seen this on other occasions. This is the type of football that the Barça fans want to see. Besides, I prefer to have an enjoyable time watching the team from the bench.”
We’re still in first place in the group, we’re not worried.” The Argentine also noted that “I think we did a good job, we created chances but the ball didn’t go in.” Messi concluded his post-match interview by analysing Celtic’s approach to the match: “The same thing happened at the Camp Nou. They played defensively and they waited to make fast counterattacks. They are very comfortable on corners and set pieces, and that’s how they scored their two goals.”