UEFA Champions League: Sadly, Celtic's Cinderella Story Not Likely to Continue

Brian Canever@briancaneverCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2012

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 05:  Celtic striker Gary Hooper celebrates after scoring the first goal with Scott Brown (r) during the  UEFA Champions League Group G match between Celtic FC and FC Spartak Moscow at Celtic Park on December 5, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Let's not start off on the wrong foot. After their Champions League group stage performance, massive congratulations are due to Neil Lennon and his Celtic side for outlasting the more recently successful and wealthier Benfica and Spartak Moscow to qualify for the knockout rounds.

However, while the streets of Glasgow may still be filled with overjoyed Scotsmen delighted for their recently underwhelming club in Europe, it would take more than a miracle for the dream to continue any longer.

That is not intended as an insult to the 1967 European Cup winners and current SPL champions, but rather a testament to how far the club has regressed in recent years compared to their continental counterparts.

Before this season, the last time Celtic qualified for the Champions League group stage was in 2007-08, when they also finished second only to fall at the hands of Barcelona in the first knockout round.

Since that doomed campaign, the club have failed to find success on any European front. In three seasons, they have never even managed to make it past the UEFA Cup/Europa League group stage.

Prior to their domestic success in 2012, the club also found themselves consistently playing second fiddle to now defunct Rangers FC (rebirthed as a newco club currently in the Scottish Third Division), and many pundits would not shy away from the claim that Celtic's last title came largely as a result of their neighbor's financial implosion.

Surely, Neil Lennon deserves credit for organizing this mediocre squad and squeezing the best out of veterans such as Kris Commons and Georgios Samaras, who has scored five goals in Celtic's long Champions League campaign despite only striking once in the league.

In the offseason, the Northern Irishman brought in future star Victor Wanyama, scorer of a key goal in the club's 2-1 home victory against Barcelona, and also purchased English goalkeeper Fraser Foster after two seasons on loan to further supplement a team with little depth. All four of the players mentioned above have been key in Celtic's European quest.

And, it should never have been easy. Currently ranked 64th among teams in the UEFA rankings, the Glasgow club managed to defeat Barcelona (1), Spartak Moscow (55) and draw Benfica (14), amassing 10 points on their way to the Round of 16. Celtic now await a favorable draw, either pairing them with debutantes Málaga or Schalke 04, arguably the only sides among the group winners they have a reasonable chance to overcome.

For viewers of the competition, Celtic's return to prominence has been welcome. While there may have been moments of anti-football that no purist enjoys, there is at least now a genuine underdog to root for in Lennon's men.

Their failure to hit the ground running in the SPL, only at the top by one point and with one more draw and merely two less defeats than the entire 2011-12 season—without Rangers in the race, of course—could be a damning sign for the club. But, if the team is truly focusing on continental progress and not ultimate domestic dominance, then there remains hope for Hoop's supporters.

However, Cinderella stories are solely written when teams defy all of the odds. Celtic have done it so far regardless of critics' opinions. They will have to continue to defy reason if they are to miraculously make it to the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time in more than a decade.