Does anyone remember what happened to Barcelona at Parkhead last term? I do, I covered it, but Stephan El Shaarawy obviously missed my piece on the Scottish champions’ victory.
It wasn’t just a victory – at least not in the sense that Celtic won and Barcelona lost and that’s all it was – it was more than that.
It was David against Goliath when all around him all and sundry dismissed David’s chances. From the offset, commentators and analysts alike patronized and talked down to David and the morning after the night before, those very same people fell silent or ate their words.
Sure, it wasn’t pretty and but it was big and it was clever – Celtic boss Neil Lennon organized his team and rallied his troops and it paid dividends on the night – I’ve rarely seen a team and a stadium as up for a fight as Celtic and their fans were that night.
And what happened? Well, Barcelona – undoubtedly one of the best footballing teams in the world with undoubtedly the best footballer in the world – were caught off-guard and by surprise. They underestimated Celtic and they were taught a valuable lesson about counting chickens before they hatch and lesson about what it means to Celtic to play in the Champions League.
Flash forward to today and El Shaarawy clearly didn’t get the memo from Lionel Messi. On the topic of the little Argentine fellow, I remember his comments in the aftermath of that shock defeat – it was a shock for Barcelona to lose to opposition they had considered so far beneath them – and the Argentine described Celtic as ‘lucky’.
I couldn’t get my head around that – yes, you can be lucky in sport, you can have decisions go your way on the night that might have gone the other way, there are all manner of variables, especially in football. But Celtic were not lucky.
Celtic were resilient, dominant, assertive, organized, unified, determined – they worked exceptionally hard as individuals and as a team in unison. Victor Wanyama’s headed goal from a set piece had clearly been worked on in training. The departed Kenyan isolated Jordi Alba, the Catalans’ smallest defender, deliberately. Tony Watt’s 83rd minute winner wasn’t lucky – his finish was sensational and he completely caught Javier Mascherano and Victor Valdes by surprise.
This time around Stephan El Shaarawy has no excuse to be surprised – AC Milan will know or at least should know what Celtic are capable of. What is a surprise to me is that the 20-year-old Italian has staked his claim so assuredly.
“We will be too strong for them. There is a lot of talk about their character and team spirit but that is not going to save them from our attacking strength," he asserted.
“We have some of the best attacking players in the world. With myself, Mario Balotelli, Robinho, Alessandro Matri, Giampaolo Pazzini and now Kaka, we will be too strong."
Strong they may be but AC Milan and their young forward should beware underestimating Celtic’s strength just as Barcelona did last term. If Celtic can beat the Spanish champions, they are surely capable of undoing the third best team in Italy.
image: © celticphotos