CELTIC’S Champions League pain came to a sorry conclusion with a 5-1 hammering from reigning kings Real Madrid in the Bernabeu last night.
It was another flawed performance from the Hoops as they suffered a fourth defeat in Group F while conceding a whopping THIRTEEN goals in that quartet of agony.
The Spanish masters hoisted their tally to eight following their 3-0 victory at Parkhead just under two months ago while RB Leipzig also enjoyed home and away successes, 3-1 in Germany and 2-0 in Glasgow.
Two stalemates – both 1-1 – against the Ukrainian champions of Shakhtar Donetsk interrupted the miserable sequence that saw the team slump to their lowest-ever points total in Europe’s most prestigious competition.
HEY, REF…Ange Postecoglou makes an appeal in Madrid.
The Hoops, minus captain Callum McGregor in midfield and rock-solid Cameron Carter-Vickers in central defence, blundered through the minefield in the Spanish capital, squandered a penalty-kick from Josip Juranovic and had one brief moment of consolation six minutes from time when Filipe Jota arced a free-kick high past Thibaut Courtois to give the 1,800 travelling fans something to cheer.
Ange Postecoglou’s quest to hit “the sweet spot” was not aided by some erratic refereeing from French official Stephanie Frappart who awarded a spot-kick in the fifth minute after Moritz Jenz had clearly accidentally handled the ball as he slipped.
Luka Modric did the expected and drilled the ball into one corner of the net as the unfortunate Joe Hart took off for the other.
Fourteen minutes later, VAR made its dreaded intervention to flag up another handball, this time by Matt O’Riley, and once again the whistler was pointing to the spot. Rodrygo took over the duties from his team-mate and fired home with the keeper again electing to go to the wrong corner. When your luck’s out…
Juranovic, who toiled all evening up against the wiles, trckery and pace of Vinicius Junior, passed up the opportunity to bring the visitors back into the contest in the the 33rd minute when his blasted penalty-kick was too close to beanpole keeper Courtois who dived right to push it away.
SPOT OFF…Josip Juranovic sees his penalty-kick saved by keeper Thibaut Courtois.
Apart from Jota’s gem, the second-half is better forgtten with Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde all sticking the ball behind Hart as the hosts controlled the game.
Postecoglou shouldered responsibility and said: “For us and the majority of our players, this is their first experience not just at Champions League level, but in European football.
“I understand the fine lines and how you get punished for mistakes and how you need to take opportunities and you can only develop that by being exposed to it and experiencing it.
“It’s the first time we’ve been in the Champions League for five years.
“The responsibility lies with me because I have taken a bold approach to try and make an impact.”
Postecoglou, speaking to the Daily Mail, continued: “We have paid the price for not having the quality and clinical finishing at one end and the opposition taking advantage at the other.
“The key for us is if we continue to play like this and continue to improve and we continually get to Champions League level, then I have no doubt that we’ll make an impact.”
JOTA JOY…Celtic’s fleeting moment of pleasure in Madrid as the winger celebrates his exquisite free-kick strike.
The defiant Hoops manager added: “I don’t fear for anything with this group of players. At the end of the day, we lost to a very good football team, but I’m still proud of their efforts.
“If you look at some of our players, Matt O’Riley and Reo Hatate, among others, they’re growing in every game. This is their sixth game of football at this level and I have no doubt they will be better footballers and we’ll learn from it.
“If we perform like we have been we’ll be hard to stop in the league. It took an enormous effort for our boys to try and match one of the best football teams in the world, but if we go in there with that intent every week we’ll be hard to stop.
“It’s just disappointment for the fans and players. I wanted to get more rewards for our efforts and our fans a bit more joy, but I’m certainly not disheartened and believe we’re on the right track.”