Posted on Thursday, 7th March 2013 by admin
In July when we started this European campaign if you’d have told me it would have finished in a 5-0 Agg hammering by Juventus I’d have laughed at you. For me we should have dispatched of Helsinki then looked forward to the next round, praying for a decent draw that would see us with a chance of making the group stages. We were off to Helsingborgs after that and I fully expected Celtic to progress, and we did so, remarkably winning 2-0 away from home before completing the job at Celtic Park.
Now then, when the draw was made I was more than confident of Celtic reaching the last 16 of the Champions League. Barcelona are a great team and sure as they did, ran away with the group. Moscow aren’t any great shakes and are more than capable of being beaten. Benfica were a funny one, they’d sold their engine room on deadline day and were left weakened. Can I be honest? I fancied us for the last 16. When I saw we had Benfica first I thought magic, get them done then go and get a point over in Moscow before the double header with Barca. Alas we reversed results, draw 0-0 in a very poor game with Benfica before amazingly beating Moscow away with a terrific Samaras header resulting in our first ever away win.
Then the Barca double header. Don’t get humiliated away, win at home. That was my thoughts on it. I knew we could beat Barca at home, we can beat anyone at home. Then 92 minutes into the first Barca game, I thought we were going to get a point before a brutal last minute winner broke my heart. For the first time since 2005 when McDonald scored 2 against us, I’d felt real genuine heartache at a goal being scored in at Celtic. I was empty, broken and determined that no matter what happened in the return game, nothing would erase that empty feeling inside me. Don’t get me wrong I was still proud of a few Celtic players that night, some were absolutely heroic.
I was proved right, on our 125th Birthday when our very own Tony Watt went through and burst the net, I went right through the roof of the pub, everyone and anyone got a hug, drinks were spilled, tables were moved and throats were tested to their absolute limits. But I still couldn’t shake that feeling from 2 weeks previous. I’m not even a pessimistic Celtic fan. On Twitter I take a very comical/negative look at the games but If truth be told I don’t want strangers knowing I’m hurt. Barca hurt me in a way I’d never felt before. Beating them was great but still, I don’t know why, I just felt empty.
Benfica away, we only need a point to qualify, well a score draw to be precise. Benfica score then what we thought was deliverance. Sammy header. 1-1 but just like we had in the previous game against Benfica we took them for granted and they popped one in. We then had to beat Moscow and hope Benfica couldn’t win in Barcelona. I was raging that night, I didn’t want to take a reflective look and be proud of what had already happened in the group. If truth be told I was adamantly expectant on qualifying for the last 16. We’d won away. We’d beaten the best team in the group. So why shouldn’t I expect us to go through?
Go through we did as somehow Benfica couldn’t take advantage of the fact Barcelona were trying to score for them and a late Commons penalty ensured Celtic with 10 points knocked out Benfica with 8. Right so we were there in the last 16. Yes all expectations to this point had been appeased. But hey, expectations grow. We wanted Celtic to have a right good go at whoever we got in the last 16.
Juventus came out the hat along with Celtic. Juventus were probably the happiest team in the competition at that stage. I don’t know why this time, but I did really fancy Celtic to go through. Maybe their previous exploits had tricked me into thinking we could go through. But the tie was over as soon as it started as Matri scored at Celtic Park. I’ll tell ye for why the tie finished on that moment. Celtic gave up. Twitter became a this is your life neil lennon tribute act and started talking about the Barca game BEFORE THE JUVE GAVE WAS EVEN FINISHED! Juve added another 2 goals that further planted our European campaign into the ground.
For 2 weeks. Twitter was awash with the reflective nonsense, they’d already gave up. People were more interested in talking about Celtic beating Barcelona WHICH WAS SO LAST YEAR BTW, than wanting to find out where it all went wrong against Juve. No tactical discussions, no logical explanations, just avoiding the elephant in the room. We’d just been f**ked 3-0 at home in the Champions League and everyone had total kacked out of wanting to discuss it.
Then the last week. Twitter was full of this blind faith that we were going to go over to Juventus and win. I never wanted to believe for a minute but I’ll admit I did start thinking what if? a wee early goal here or there but nope not to be. People were convinced we’d get a penalty over in Turin. The ref was only ever going to give Juve free kicks for pushing in the box because thats what referees do. We lost another two totally unavoidable goals and crashed out 5-0.
Some would say they’re proud because for the last 25 minutes all you heard was ‘here we go 10 in a row’ and I’d like to take this opportunity to praise the Celtic fans for actually going to Turin in the first place. Each person that was there was a credit to themselves and Celtic. They do deserve immense praise for their efforts to galvanise some sort of effort from their team in defeat thats not my problem.
My problem is that folks would rather hide behind our amazing fans than dare ask questions. Thats not right. People shouldn’t fear other Celtic fans. I want to know where it went wrong v Juventus. I want to know why we decided to completely kack it out of a european tie. I don’t want to sit and continuously praise the Celtic supporters. Its no surprise that they travelled in their numbers and gave it laldy. God bless every single one of them. But c’mon people don’t hide behind that, ask questions. Its good to be curious.
So I’m sitting here thinking What If Celtic? What if we didn’t decide to save our worst performance for the last 16? What if we didn’t go running crying to the referee and instead stood up to Juventus ourselves? What if Neil Lennon trusted Anthony Stokes? What if we didn’t play right into Juve’s hands? Every single one of Juve’s goals against us came off of a Celtic attack. We could of won the tie 5-0!
As Celtic’s reputation in Europe rises, and deservedly so, why shouldn’t my expectations? Why should I be happy just to be there? I’m chuffed to have been invited to the party, but I don’t want to sit myself.
If we deserve praise for getting to the last 16 on our budget does that then cheapen on SPL wins because we spend more money than every other team?
To sum up, Thank you Celtic for what have been some of the best nights in my life. Samaras’ goals in Barcelona/Moscow will live with me forever, its the moments I’ll remember most not the results. I just wish we’d have carried our belief on into the last 16, I think we let ourselves down when it really mattered.
Who knows, but the eternally unanswered question will go on.
What If, Celtic?