BRENDAN RODGERS admitted he was “very pleased with the performance” of his Celtic players against top-class opponents in Atletico Madrid last night.
The Hoops manager is still waiting for a first win in Champions League Group B following this 2-2 draw in which the hosts were twice ahead, but failed to kill off their rivals at a packed and bouncing Parkhead.
Kyogo Furuhashi flashed the team ahead in the fourth minute and, after Antoine Griezmann had luckily hit the equaliser following a penalty-kick rebound, Luis Palma restored the advantage with a thunderous shot shortly afterwards.
However, a lapse in defence allowed Alvaro Morata to sneak in behind Cameron Carter-Vickers to send a header spinning past the blameless Joe Hart for the second leveller that eventually gave the visitors a point.
Rodrigo de Paul was banished in the 82nd minute following his second yellow card, but the home side failed to capitalise on their extra man even with five minutes of stoppage-time added on as a punishing, pulverising encounter headed for a conclusion.
Rodgers, though, remained positive afterwards as he said: “I thought the players were outstanding. The quality of our football and the composure that we played with, especially in that first 55-60 minutes, was very, very good.
“We scored two brilliant goals and we were playing against a top side, so we expect them to have a spell, of course, in the second-half, but the players kept fighting and they kept working.
“It’s a tempo that we’re not used to, so probably after 65-70 minutes that little bit of fatigue started to creep in, but the players have that focus and mentality and they kept going. It was at least worthy of a point, but I was very pleased with the performance.”
Reflecting on Kyogo’s opener after some mesmerising interchanging and a killer through ball from Matt O’Riley, the Hoops gaffer, speaking to Celtic TV, continued: “It was a brilliant goal.
“We like to impose our game on the opponent, it doesn’t matter who it is, and we scored an earlier goal here when we played Lazio, as well, but it was a perfect start for us and we went on and played very well in the half.
“The quality of our football and the courage to take the ball and then how we defended was excellent.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the team is growing at this level over the course of the three performances against very good sides.
“We’ve been right in the game and been in front in two of them. So, I can see that growth and that development – and we were very close to getting an iconic result.
“But it was still a fantastic performance and it’s our first point on the board.”
Celtic now head for the Spanish capital a week on Tuesday for the next instalment of their back-to-back feature against Diego Simeone’s side.
Rodgers added: “We know it’s going to be a tough game. You can see the level of the team and the quality that they have, but I was very proud of the team and the courage they showed.
“So, when we go over there we’ll keep that same mentality and same attitude.”