Champions League

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Will Celtic take down giant Barcelona?

Check out highlights of Barcelona's compelling win against Celtic.
Check out highlights of Barcelona's compelling win against Celtic.
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Patrick Barclay

Patrick Barclay is one of England's most experienced soccer writers. He has covered the game for every broadsheet newspaper and attended eight World Cups. Barclay is the author of biographies of Jose Mourinho (Further Anatomy of a Winner) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Football - Bloody Hell!) You can follow him on Twitter @paddybarclay.

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There are few better places to be on a big Champions League night than Parkhead – and Celtic just have to hope the magic doesn’t work for Barcelona Wednesday night (live, FOX Soccer 2GO Wednesday, 2:30 PM EST) .

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If it does, the score could be embarrassing. Tito Vilanova’s team have already established themselves as the top team in Spain and the best in the world. The days when Celtic could contest such a title are long gone.

The Glasgow giants did earn a playoff for the global throne once, after becoming the first British club to win the European Cup, forerunner to the Champions League in 1967. That chance evaporated in a cauldron of kicking and punching when they took on Racing Club in Montevideo, Uruguay, and had three players sent off to the Latin Americans’ two.

Cross-cultural passion tends to be more edifyingly expressed these days and nothing should get in the way of a beautiful occasion in Glasgow, where a 60,000 full house will sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – Celtic fans claim to have chosen it as their anthem before their Liverpool equivalents – with hope in their hearts, albeit mixed with an element of fear.

These are real soccer people, though, and the multitude in green and white hoops will give a respectful welcome to the greatness in their midst, especially Lionel Messi, despite having scored the winner in the fourth minute of added time when the teams met at Camp Nou last month.

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That was agony for the Celts, who had led through Georgios Samaras and fought so hard to restrict Barcelona to a single reply, but the points were lost. Fortunately, they had four already on the board after a scoreless home tie with Benfica and a fantastic 3-2 away win against Spartak Moscow.

In every game so far, young Celtic coach Neil Lennon has earned praise for his tactics. The fans were delighted at his appointment. Lennon was a highly popular player – combative yet careful with his passing – and most expected his forte to be motivation, at least in the early stages of his career rather than game planning.

Yet Barcelona have seldom been so frustrated in this season of resurgence than by Celtic. This gives the faithful hope that Lennon can do it again, prepare his resources so that Vilanova’s technicians lack space in the danger areas in and around the penalty box. But a goal would be nice and Lennon is sweating on the fitness of Samaras because the Greek striker tends to shine on the European stage.

Sadly, Celtic will be without at least two customary starters: Emilio Izaguirre and James Forrest. Izaguirre will be missed as the Honduran left back epitomizes one of the astute buys who complement the Scots such as the quick, direct young Forrest; another who would have been useful against the distinguished visitors from Catalunya.

Fortunately, young Kenyan playmaker Victor Wanyama will be on duty, along with Efe Ambrose, a Nigerian plucked from the Israeli club Ashdod, and Israel’s Beram Kayal. Celtic’s best player, as always, is expected to be the atmosphere in their evocative stadium in Glasgow’s East End where so many notables have fallen.

Those defeated at Parkhead include Juventus in 2001 – Alessandro del Piero and company lost 4-3 – Lyon in 2003; Manchester United in 2006, when Shunsuke Nakamura stroked that glorious free kick out of Edwin van der Sar’s reach with 10 minutes to go; and Milan in 2007, when there were only seconds on the clock as Scott McDonald made it 2-1.

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But this would be the biggest result of all. Victory wouldn’t guarantee Celtic a place in the knockout stages but it would leave them needing only one win from a visit to Benfica in Lisbon and the return match against their Moscow foes. It would undoubtedly be the perfect way to celebrate the club’s 125th anniversary.

It has been a strange season so far. Celtic were expected to run away with the Scottish Premier League in the absence of Rangers, who have been banished to the lower divisions after going bust and re-forming. The Bhoys currently find themselves level on top points with Hibernian.

Their record isn’t that bad – six wins and only two losses in 11 games – but it’s not good enough to silence the taunts from the Rangers support. And yet in Europe, it’s looking better than many Celtic fans feared. Celtic followers will keep their fingers crossed against Barcelona and will look to add one more miracle to their decorated history.

Patrick Barclay is one of England's most experienced soccer writers. He has covered the game for every broadsheet newspaper and attended eight World Cups and nine European Championships. Barclay is the author of biographies of Jose Mourinho (Further Anatomy of a Winner) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Football - Bloody Hell!) You can follow him on Twitter @paddybarclay.

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