Celtic 0 – Barcelona 1

The Champions League is where Celtic want to be, whisper it need to be. With the crowd willing the team to go forward and win, the bunkum of them being the so called twelfth man is almost believable. Barcelona are better than Celtic, but that doesn’t always mean they’ll always win, as last year proved. Messi was out. Watching them struggle in other fixtures, most notably away to Bayern Munich, showed quite clearly that Barcelona are not the same team with Messi as without him. The £50 million signing of the Brazilian Neymar worth more than the combined worth of the whole Celtic team puts the idea of loss into perspective. The score shows that Barcelona won and the statistics will show that they, as expected, dominated possession, but the game turned with what I thought was a good yellow card for Scott Brown, the Celtic captain. The Celtic defence had been left exposed and Neymar broke away on the right wing. He was just over the half-way line and not going to score, but with the other Barcelona forwards bombing forward (every Barcelona player is in some sense a forward player, including their goalkeeper Victor Valdes with his propensity for taking people on when the ball is passed back to him) it was a potential goal scoring opportunity. Brown caught Neymar’s ankles and it was no longer a goal scoring opportunity. The French referee reached for what everyone assumed would be the mandatory yellow card but seemed to get them mixed up and flashed red. Even the Parkhead crowd was silenced. There was half-an-hour to go and we’d only ten men. It seemed unbelievable and they booed Neymar’s every touch for the remainder of the game. Replays, however, showed that after bringing down Neymar Brown’s momentum had taken him on and he’d clearly flicked a foot out and kicked Neymar. In the last tie against A C Milan, he’d done something similar, standing on one of their player’s ankles after tackling him. Here the referee was a yard behind him. This is the Scott Brown of old, the headless chicken, whom I thought had matured into a hardworking and worthy captain of Celtic. The debate in the newspapers has centred on whether he deserved to get send off. I counted one yellow for a foul on Neymar and another for gross stupidity. Two yellows make a red and the Celtic support should not be easily led that it was someone else’s fault. With ten men we created the best chances of the night. First substitute James Forest’s volley into the top corner of the net, remarkably clawed out by Valdes. Then from the resultant corner and Common’s delivery –one of the few touches he had all night—a Mulgrew header that had everyone jumping but he failed to find an empty net. The Barcelona goal was not a thing of beauty. Emilo Izziguire, who seems too frequently for my liking, to be the wrong man in the wrong place, was caught out of position. The substitute Alexis Sanchez (also worth more than the combined value of the Celtic team) accelerated towards the byeline. But we had Van Dijk, Mathews and Ambrose all filing back into the six-yard box. Ambrose, in particular, and not for the first time, was watching the ball and not the man. Standing just off Ambrose, as the ball floated over, Cesc Fabergas seemed to have headed the ball all wrong. It seemed to hang in the glare and glue of the floodlights for about three of four hours before floating into the net and past Fraser Foster. It was the type of Scottish Premier League goals that seemed out of place in such an evening. Barcelona has another few one-on-ones with Foster, who done brilliantly to keep them out. Brown is out of the next two, perhaps three games. Will he be missed? I’m sure he will. Ajax and AC Milan love players that get send off. It makes their job so much easier. Big game. We took a bit of a kicking. Usual result.  Browned off.