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BRAVE CELTIC OUT BUT NOT DOWN

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CELTIC 0 BARCELONA 2

LIONEL MESSI, the scourge of Celtic, sent the Hoops towards European oblivion with two goals at Parkhead tonight.

The Argentinian wizard, who claimed a hat-trick in the 7-0 hammering in September, netted a double in front of a sell-out 60,000 crowd to kill off Europa League hopes after Christmas.

It was a night of Champions League drama as Messi and Co were just too good for Brendan Rodgers’ team on a chilly evening in the east end of Glasgow where the Hoops support, once again, gave the team full backing.

The little striker made the most of an opening in the 23rd minute to clip in the opener with Craig Gordon left helplessly exposed by his defence.

And Messi finished the game as a contest from the penalty spot 10 minutes after the turnaround after Suarez conned the referee by trapping Izaguirre’s arm.

Moussa Dembele missed an excelent opportunity to equalise moments before with a powderpuff header into the hands of the grateful Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. It was too good a chance to miss.

Celtic were punished when Emilio Izaguirre’a arm was pulled  to give the Spaniards a spot-kick and Messi was never going to miss. That goal, Barca’s ninth against the Hoops in two games, sealed the fate of the Scottish Champions.

Rodgers’ side put up a better show than they did in the Nou Camp, but remain bottom of the section with two points and travel to Manchester City on December 6 for the final fixture unable to finish third for a Europa League spot.

They are some £40 million richer for the experience.

Despite all the home side’s efforts, it was a mostly comfortable win for Luis Enrique’s side who qualify for the knock-out stages as group winners.

Barca, of course, were boosted by the return of Messi after he recovered from the illness that kept him out of the goalless draw against Malaga at the weekend.

Luis Suarez was back from suspension while Gerard Pique shrugged off a knock to take his place in the defence.

Celtic defenders Jozo Simunovic and Emilio Izaguirre and midfielder Tom Rogic were back in the side, but striker Leigh Griffiths failed a fitness test on a tight hamstring.

Barcelona showed early flashes of their class and in the 10th minute Messi failed to control a wonderful through-ball from Sergio Busquets when he would have had only Gordon to beat.

Messi then missed the target with a drive from 16 yards after being set up by Jordi Alba, before Ivan Rakitic headed a cross from the same player past the post.

Nasty Neymar set up Messi for the breakthrough goal with a pass from the left and he completed the job with a little dink into the net.

It was a clinical finish, but to their credit Celtic came fighting back and there remained the suggestion that they could fashion an opportunity.

That chance came in the 36th minute when Dembele tested Ter Stegen with a drive from 16 yards with the goalkeeper gathering at the second attempt.

However, the visitors retained their potency going forward and it would have been 2-0 had Gordon not made a remarkable save from Suarez’s point-blank header after Messi had reached the byline with a trademark burst of speed.

Winger James Forrest replaced Scott Sinclair at the start of the second half and seven minutes later he planted a cross right on to the head of Demebele, but the France Under-21 striker’s header lacked power.

Celtic paid for that glaring miss almost immediately when Izaguirre’s challenge on Suarez inside the box at the other end saw Italian referee Daniele Orsato point to the spot, with Messi confidently beating Gordon with his penalty.

  
And that was that in Europe for another year. Painful lessons learned once more.

Photography courtesy of FC Barcelona, many thanks.

TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Izaguirre; Brown, Armstrong; McGregor (sub:Roberts 72), Rogic (sub: Bitton 64), Sinclair (sub: Forrest 46): Dembele.

 
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