Winning in One of the Toughest Stadiums

Celtic Park, home to Celtic Glasgow, has proven to be one of the most difficult stadiums in the world to play in.

FC Barcelona won last night at one of the toughest stadiums to play in the World, Celtic Park, defeating Celtic Glasgow, 3-2. With the win, Barça also proved wrong everybody who was relating to a tough defeat suffered at the same venue four years ago in a knock-out round against Celtic in the UEFA Cup. In 2004, the Scottish club won 1-0 at home. In the second game, a tough defense allowed Celtic to keep its goal scoreless to register a 0-0 draw at Spanish soil that qualified the green and white team to the next round.

This time, although the Scottish team played attack soccer, FC Barcelona was not surprised by it. The loyal Celtic fans will travel to Spain to support a squad that will need to overcome a knock-out round that really looks uphill. To make it to the quarter finals, Celtic would need to win at Barça’s Nou Camp by two goals. The Celtic Park match virtually decided this round. Japanese midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura talked before the match about the importance of that first game.

“If we can win the game at home, we would have a chance to make it to the next round”, said Nakamura. “It would also be very important to not allow any goal, so we can have a chance in the second match at Barcelona.”

Nakamura was right, but the result of the game held at Glasgow was the opposite of what he was hoping. FC Barcelona not only won, but scored three goals. This had not happened at Celtic Park in the last two Champions League seasons in which Celtic had not lost at home in seven games and had not surrendered more than one goal in any of those matches even facing tough opponents like Manchester United, AC Milan (twice) and Benfica (also twice).

The match

Things started in fact pretty good for the home team. The Dutch striker with the hardest last name to pronounce in European soccer, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, scored early to put Celtic in front. Things look great: it was time to set up a strong defense around Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc, and look for the fast break. But Argentinean elusive forward Lionel Messi tied it after two minutes, forcing the Scottish team to attack again.   

Celtic regained the lead when Barry Robson scored with seven minutes remaining in the first period. The score at halftime was a promising 2-1. If the men managed by the charismatic Scottish coach Gordon Strachan could keep Barcelona’s great offensive players away from their goal, Celtic could dream in repeating the success achieved against the Spaniards four years ago. 

But things were different in the second stage. Barça showed its best version of its Jogo Bonito (Beautiful Game) to escape with a win. Veteran French striker Tierry Henry accounted for the equalizer early in the second half, and Messi scored his second goal with 11 minutes to play in the contest to leave Celtic Park speechless. Barcelona controlled the game so much in the second half that ball possession belonged to them 75% of the time. 

Even knowing FC Barcelona’s great talent, Strachan was not too happy in the press conference. His team gave away many chances to the opponent.

“There were a few mistakes that cost us”, Celtic’s manager said. “I think in tennis they call them unforced errors.”

Hoping for a miracle

Despite the negative result achieved by their team in the first match, waves of Scottish supporters are expected to hit Barcelona in less than two weeks. The fame of Celtic fans is World-wide recognized. Where ever they go, the town turns into white and green. As an example, in UEFA Cup’s 2003 championship game, in which Celtic lost against FC Porto (3-2), more than 75,000 of their followers travelled to the Spanish southern city.
Àxel Torres, journalist for the only sports radio station in Spain, Radio Marca, defined perfectly, before that 2003 final game, the type of fans Celtic followers are.

“Seville has been drawn by a green-and-white wave”, Torres reported. “Most of Celtic fans came to the city without a ticket and a place to sleep”.
Winning at Barcelona by two goals seems impossible. Anyhow, the capital of Catalonia will be drawn by Celtic’s colors as Seville was almost five years ago. The number will not get up to 75,000 people, but thousands of Scottish fans will travel to Barcelona, hoping that their team can record a miracle win.