On the latest scores slider that popped up on screen routinely during last night’s games, two results stood out in particular. The first was a shock over In Ukraine, as Bate Borisov managed to defeat German giants and current runners-up Bayern Munich and hold aloft one of the biggest scalps in European cup history.
The second result was arguably just as impressive. Celtic has entered the group stage of the Champions League for the first season in four years and have been handed a very hard group containing Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow.
Given their status of 4th seeds, and the state they, along with Scottish football as a whole, have found themselves in during recent years, the Bhoy’s are expected to be nothing more than tourists, enjoying the scenery of the likes of the Camp Nou and Estadio da Luz whilst also supplying unparalleled atmospheres at Parkhead.
Their expedition into Europe is not expected to last past Christmas, and the fans will go home hoping to be handed the opportunity to play the continent’s finest teams once again next season. However, after two games, a spanner has been put into the works of that idea.
A 0-0 draw at home against Benfica a fortnight ago represented a steady start for the Glasgow giants. Neil Lennon was satisfied with the performance, saluting their defensive solidity but bemoaning their lack of attacking thrust.
Regardless, they avoided defeat and one would assume that would be the primary objective of the group stage campaign: to not embarrass themselves.
However, yesterday evening they recorded their first European away win in over twenty years by defeating Spartak Moscow 3-2 on a plastic pitch in the intimidating Luzhniki Stadium.
The win aside, the result will do wonders for the confidence and belief of this Celtic side. Bar Scott Brown, ten players made their Champions League debut against Benfica two weeks ago to emphasise their infant-like stature in European competition.
Given the dire financial straits of Scottish football, the majority of Celtic’s squad have been recruited from the lower leagues of British and European football. Of those who started last night, several were plucked from lower league football in England and Europe.
The likes of Gary Hooper, Kris Commons and Fraser Forster were plying their trades in the Championship and League 1 as recently as 2009. Even key players such as Victor Wanyama and Emilio Izaguirre were signed from obscurity; Wanyama was playing for unknown Belgium side Germinal Beerschot and Izaguirre was taken straight from the Honduran Premier League.
Even manager Neil Lennon can be considered a rookie at this level. Last night was only his second group stage fixture as a Celtic manager, and he is slowly building a reputation as a talented young coach.
Of course, he spent many a season playing in big European games for Celtic as a player during the ‘glory days’ of the early millennium which culminated in a UEFA Cup final defeat to Porto in Seville in May 2003. His experience of dealing with intense atmospheres as a player is priceless when he sends his teams out against supporters such as that of Spartak Moscow and the vastness of the Camp Nou.
Yesterday’s victory leaves Celtic second in Group G and they have a vital three point cushion against 3rd placed Benfica. The next two fixtures for the Hoops are undoubtedly the toughest; Barcelona home and away.
A draw at Celtic Park is not entirely out of the question given their home record in Europe, but Celtic would be concentrating on getting a result in Lisbon against Benfica and defeating Spartak once more in Glasgow.
One more victory could gain Celtic a lucrative place in the draw for the Europa League in the new year. Better still is a place in the last 16 of the Champions League. You get the impression that the main focus for Celtic this season is European progression. The domestic front seems simple enough with the omission of Rangers and a lack of a direct rival for the SPL title.
Either way, nights like yesterday in Moscow are few and far between nowadays for the Bhoys, and the dramatic fashion of the win- a last minute winner by Georgios Samaras- will place the game on the list of the most memorable nights in Europe for Celtic.
The back pages may be dominated this week by the ‘Miracle of Medinah’, but the words ‘Miracle of Moscow’ may be just as catchy for those situated in Glasgow’s East-End.
image: © celticphotos