Celtic Park has witness countless memorable occasions in its history, but few that can match Wednesday night’s victory over Barcelona for nerve-shredding excitement, drama and joy. A late Lionel Messi tap-in could not prevent goals from Victor Wanyama and Tony Watt giving Celtic a famous win.
The Bhoys suffered a huge blow to their hopes before the match when captain Scott Brown, top striker Gary Hooper and James Forrest were all forced to drop out because of illness or injury.
It was an unfamiliar Celtic lineup, with Charlie Mulgrew in midfield and Georgios Samaras linking up with Miku in attack for the first time.
Barcelona also had a makeshift look about their defence, with Carlos Puyol injured and Gerard Pique not considered fit enough to start.
Javier Mascherano and Marc Bartra took their places with Alex Song in midfield replacing the suspended Sergio Busquets.
The match quickly settled into a familiar pattern with Barca monopolizing possession. They prodded and probed at the Celtic defence without ever carving out any clear-cut chances.
The closest they came in the opening exchanges was a Messi snapshot which went well over the bar in the seventh minute.
The Catalans had a lucky break in the 17th minute when Alex Song, who had already been booked, cynically brought down Miku Fedor as he burst past him in midfield.
Astonishingly, Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers elected to keep the card in his pocket.
Before any sense of injustice was allowed to fester though, Celtic took the lead on 20 minutes.
Charlie Mulgrew’s delivery from a corner on Celtic’s right hand side was inch-perfect and Victor Wanyama rose majestically at the far post to power a header past Victor Valdes and send the Celtic support into delirium.
Barcelona responded immediately with Kelvin Wilson and Mulgrew blocking shots from Andres Iniesta and Dani Alves.
In the 28th minute, Lionel Messi hit a terrific shot from the edge of the box which Fraser Forster just tipped onto the crossbar and over, although the referee awarded a goal kick, so slight was Forster’s touch.
The closest Barcelona came in the first half was a looping header from Alexis Sanchez, which seemed to deceive Forster and hit the outside of the post before running to safety on 38 minutes.
Unlike last time at Camp Nou, Celtic managed to hold onto their lead until the halftime whistle, and at that stage, hopes began to grow that they could take something from the game.
Barca renewed their onslaught in the second half and appeared to be making repeated headway down Celtic’s left side.
While Dani Alves was repeatedly able to fire crosses in from that flank, it may actually have been playing into Celtic’s hands, with Kelvin Wilson and Efe Ambrose for the most part dealing comfortably with his deliveries.
Even when Barca attempted to tika-taka through the centre of the defence, Wilson and Ambrose proved an insurmountable barrier, ably assisted by Wanyama, who was immense throughout the match.
Celtic remained dangerous on the few occasions they managed to push forward and almost extended their lead when a high ball into the box was not dealt with by Bartra, who allowed it to bounce behind him before he managed to recover to block a close-range Charlie Mulgrew volley.
Inevitably, Barca created enough openings to threaten the Celtic goal, but whenever Wilson and Ambrose’s defensive line was breached, they found Fraser Forster in stunning form.
A double save from Alexis on 60 minutes was bettered eight minutes later when a powerful left-foot shot from Messi seemed destined for the back of the net.
Forster dived to his left and made an incredible one-handed stop, which had the huge crowd chanting his name.
Forster was involved in the moment which almost blew the roof off Celtic Park in the 81st minute. After comfortably holding a Messi free kick, he kicked the ball long upfield, where its trajectory was badly misjudged by Xavi Hernandez.
It bounced invitingly in front of 18-year-old substitute Tony Watt, who ran away from Javier Mascherano before coolly slotting the ball past Valdes as though it was nothing more than a training match.
The crowd were now in raptures and it so easily could have gotten even better for Celtic minutes later when Watt again burst past Mascherano who seemed to pull him back.
Rather than award a foul and a certain red card, referee Kuipers allowed play to continue.
Messi’s 91st minute counter—a left-foot shot into the roof of the net after Forster had again saved a goal bound effort—ensured a nervy last couple of minutes for Celtic, but this time there was to be no last-minute heartache for the Bhoys and Barca joined Juventus, Manchester United and AC Milan on the list of soccer giants put to the sword on Champions League duty at Celtic Park.
Player of the Match: Victor Wanyama. The young Kenyan was a powerhouse in midfield for Celtic, constantly disrupting Barcelona’s passing moves, winning the ball and showing composure and class in possession. His superb opening goal set the stadium alight.
Celtic: Forster, Matthews, Ambrose, Wilson, Mulgrew, Lustig (Watt), Commons, Ledley, Wanyama, Miku, Samaras (Kayal).
Barcelona: Valdes, Alves, Bartra (Pique), Alba, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Mascherano, Song (Fabregas), Sanchez (Villa), Pedro