Qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League is an astonishing achievement for a team seeded in pot 4. You need only look around Europe to see how unforgiving this tournament is. The champions of England and Europe are both out, while England’s reigning champions last year went out at the group stage (to Benfica).
Amid numerous predictions of a comfortable victory I suggested yesterday that last night’s Spartak game would be difficult. What we now know is that Celtic eliminated two very good teams from this season’s Champions League. Benfica took four points off us, by all accounts, were the better team in the Camp Nou and dominated Barcelona in the early part of their game in Lisbon. They beat Spartak at home and pinned the Russian’s back into their own box for long periods of their game in Moscow.
This is the fourth time Benfica have faced Celtic and they have been eliminated on each occasion, always by the slenderest of margins.
Spartak finally got their act together last night under new boss Valery Karpin. Reaction in Russia suggested this was their best game of the season, and that Emenike, who has seldom shown the appetite for the game, was playing for the attention of scouts. They are a good team who enjoyed 60% possession away from home in Europe, although Celtic denied them genuine chances for most of the game.
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Spartak and Benfica will both believe they could have done better in the group but we got further evidence of a few football facts from this campaign:
It is more important to prevent defensive mistakes than to create chances.
The margin of difference between a well-organised team at this level and the very best in the world is slim, especially if the above point is observed.
Possession is overrated as an indicator of progress. Learn not to be stressed by it and to remain organised.
Discipline is an underrated indicator of progress.
I started Monday’s blog by saying, “Here is a prediction for you, Wednesday’s Champions League game at Celtic Park will not end with 22 players on the field”. Spartak are a good team but they had a man sent off against Celtic in Moscow when in a winning position, then kicked everything that moved last night, culminating in a red card for an assault on Kris Commons.
Indiscipline is an expensive commodity.
Neil Lennon will now have time to review the several elements of this campaign which worked well and the few which didn’t. Each tactical decision made was a risk but will have taught him things about his team. We will be well prepared for the next round.
As for Georgios, what a performance.
Epilepsy Scotland have a Celtic ball with certificate of authenticity, signed by 12 Celtic players on the day of the Barcelona game which is available for auction by email. The competition closes tomorrow (Thursday) at 20:00. To win this fantastic piece of Celtic memorabilia email your bid to email@example.com. The prize if for collection only, any postage required would need to be paid separately. All funds raised will go towards Epilepsy Scotland.
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