Watt puts out the lights on Barcelona
SOCCER: Celtic 2 Barcelona 1: A day after Celtic officially recognised the 125th anniversary of their inception, the class of 2012 delivered one of the finest European results in their history.
Neil Lennon’s understrength team displayed wonderful tenacity and ruthlessness to see off Barcelona.
In the midst of epic celebrations in Glasgow’s east end, the significance of this win in a Champions League context was almost forgotten. Celtic are now on the verge of the last 16.
Barcelona hope arrived from Messi, who scored from close range in stoppage time. But Celtic could not be denied; with the timing seeming wholly appropriate.
Lennon’s team received legitimate praise for their showing in the Camp Nou a fortnight ago, where it took a stoppage time Jordi Alba goal to secure Barcelona’s 100th Champions League win. Lennon had been keen to point out in the build-up to this game that Barca’s potency is not blunted when they play away from home. Regardless of the opposition, Celtic Park is an expectant venue on European nights. Yet Celtic had also suffered the misfortune of injuries to key players. As expected, Gary Hooper and Emilio Izaguirre sat out this match but there was surprise about the absence of the Celtic captain Scott Brown, who had been struck down by a virus.
The visitors’ first opportunity fell to the irrepressible Lionel Messi, who scooped over the crossbar from an Alba cross in the eighth minute.
Generally, though, Lennon would have been content with Celtic’s opening to the game amid a typically rousing atmosphere; Wanyama was about to intensify that.
As was the case in the match in Catalonia, a Charlie Mulgrew set play created sufficient trouble in the Barcelona defence to force a Celtic goal. From Mulgrew’s corner, Wanyama bulleted a fierce header past Victor Valdes.
The goal was fitting reward for Wanyama, whose fine midfield play had earned Celtic rare possession in the opponents’ last third. The Kenyan was watched here by scouts from England, including Manchester United, a matter which will only boost speculation he will be coaxed from Glasgow before too long.
Barca’s attempts at a response, as intricate and patient as ever, found stern resistance among the Celtic back line. In Messi’s case, he clipped Fraser Forster’s bar from 16 yards, moments before the Argentina forward played a teasing ball across goal which eluded his team-mates.
Barcelona intensified their efforts at claiming an equaliser after the interval. Messi tested Forster with a curling effort from 18 yards before the Celtic goalkeeper produced a fine double save to deny Alexis.
By the hour mark, Barcelona were territorially dominant without their hosts looking overly perturbed or panicked. That, of course, was to Celtic’s enormous credit given the savaging beatings Barca have dished out to teams in similar scenarios.
Tito Vilanova had the ability to bring on David Villa – as he duly did with 25 minutes to play – and Cesc Fabregas. Lennon, by contrast, had four youngsters among his six outfield substitutes.
Still, Vilanova was lucky his team weren’t reduced to 10 men as early as the 68th minute. Alex Song, already on a booking, clattered through the back of Miku, with the referee showing notable generosity to the former Arsenal man.
Forster’s finest save of the night was still to come. The England squad member produced a wonderful, diving one-handed stop to frustrate Messi again. Song, unsurprisingly, was subsequently withdrawn for Fabregas.
This time, it was Celtic who were to finish with glory. Straight from a Forster kick out, Xavi clean missed his attempt at playing the ball back into the Celtic half. The 18-year-old Tony Watt, on as a substitute, raced through on goal and lashed beyond Valdes.