Thursday 23 November 2017

Celtic summon spirit of Lisbon Lions

Celtic supporters show just what being on Europe's main stage means to them, ahead of their 3-3 Champions League group stage draw with Manchester City. Picture: PA
Celtic supporters show just what being on Europe's main stage means to them, ahead of their 3-3 Champions League group stage draw with Manchester City. Picture: PA

Ian Herbert

There was an extraordinary moment, as the Champions League's anthem sounded, when Celtic Park burst into a long and monumental roar of expectation and you saw what the grand European stage means to this place. It was a reminder to those of a Manchester City disposition how it would be to put their suspicions of UEFA behind them, as Pep Guardiola has asked, and embrace this competition.

Few British stadiums can create such a noise and the Celtic players were drenched in its spirit, as the rain drifted across the place. It is 50 years this season since Jock Stein's Lisbon Lions defeated Inter Milan 2-1 in a European Cup final performance described by their playmaker Jimmy Johnstone as "like the Dutch speeded up."

Those days of walking tall among the continent's giants are long gone because the money talks now and this club, with their minuscule TV revenues, can't begin to compete but no-one can say they didn't evoke the spirit of May '67.

Scott Sinclair, who drove much of their early work, told this week of how the release the city has brought him after his unhappy three years at the Etihad, for whom he was lost without trace when Roberto Mancini signed him. He became an emblem of a club with more spending power than sense.

"I was coming home every day and I was angry. I used to get angry all the time," he said.

Well, this was the night when the 27-year-old put that indignation to work, driving a frequent path down City's left which put the fear of God into Pablo Zabaleta and Nicolas Otamendi. It was he who ferried in the free-kick which was sent on for Moussa Dembele's opening goal, two minutes into the game. He who took the outside path beyond Zabaleta and crossed for Tim Rogic to spin and shoot. He who won the free-kick which the same Australian bent narrowly wide.

City's players processed back to the centre circle in that second minute wondering what had hit them and when Erik Sviatchenko unravelled a volley a few minutes later you knew that this one was going to be special.

Special did not always equate to divine. It was a performance of classic Brendan Rodgers proportions - his players pressing and harrying and running through walls for him, yet wide open and simply not equipped at times to deal with Guardiola's team of many talents. It is never going to look promising when Kolo Toure is facing the force of Sergio Aguero. As Aguero, Raheem Sterling and David Silva weaved their patterns, City looked like they could break through at any time.

It was Dembele who allowed Celtic to match all of this. This was a night when the young Frenchman's presence seemed to reveal that Midas touch Rodgers possesses when it comes to finding young talent. The 20-year old cost Celtic £300,000 in compensation from Fulham and that early goal was his 18th in this calendar year.


His 19th was the one this place will be talking about for years. A fairly indifferent cross from the left by Kieran Tierney, a badly scuffed attempted clearance by Aleksandr Kolarov and the young French player, lurking behind him, swivelling and shooting. That was 3-2 for Celtic.

The goal which equalled it out - a stunning one-two between Aguero and David Silva sending the Argentine through; Craig Gordon parrying his shot out for Nolito to tap in - made you feel that the Scottish effort would be in vain. But the spirit of Lisbon would resound once more. The plan had been to mark the achievements of Stein's team on 67 minutes and no one missed the moment. Celtic's hopes in a tough group are intact, though however long the journey lasts, this may be the night which tops them all this season. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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