BRENDAN RODGERS has pledged to fire Celtic back into the big-time after last night’s European exit.
The 2-0 defeat from Barcelona left the Hoops bottom of Group C and without any hope of even consolation in the Europa League after Christmas.
But the Parkhead boss said defiantly: “First and foremost, the challenge was getting into the Champions League.
“We had gone a period of time not qualifying, so we had a huge effort during the summer to qualify. This experience, with one game to go against Manchester City next month, was always going to be invaluable for us.
“There are lots of young players in the team who will improve, especially when you look at our first game compared to now.
“We were not fearful and it’s just about maintaining the standard.
“We have played three of the best teams in Europe over the course of this competition so far and we have gradually got better with each game.
“Now we have to go on and make sure we can get into it next year.
“Each year we are in it, the club improves on and off the field and that is our ambition.”
Rodgers admitted he was frustrated by two key points of the contest at the beginning of the second period.
Trailing 1-0, Moussa Dembele missed a great chance to level and Barca were awarded a penalty only moments later when Luis Suarez tricked a foul out of Emilio Izaguirre.
The Hoops gaffer observed: “At this level, it’s very much about key moments. When they arise in the game, against such a world class team like Barcelona, you have to take them.
“With Moussa’s chance, it’s probably a little bit more difficult when you see it again. The ball was just behind him a bit and he had to generate the power.
“He’s disappointed, but these are things he’ll learn from.
“And I didn’t think it was a penalty. What Luis is brilliant at is being in and around the box.
“He provokes defenders and I think he was leaning into Emilio who tried to fight for his space.
“What Luis is clever at, is that he’ll grab hold of the defender and spin around and make it look like he’s pulled to the ground.
“So no, I didn’t think it was a penalty and it was a key moment in the game.
“It was at the start of the second-half when we were pressing and getting into good areas.
“The momentum was clearly with us. They clearly have quality, but, at one goal down, we were always in the game.
“So for them to get to 2-0, after we’d just missed a chance with a header, was disappointing.
“The referee didn’t give us so much during the game, I didn’t think. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
So Celtic FC fail to advance to the Champions League knockouts. It was always going to be a tough ask for the five-time Scottish champions, if the betting odds were any indication. But a football fan should dream, right?
What’s football without dreams of grandeur? Sure dreams are realised. Dreams are crushed. There is rejoicing. There is despair. It’s never a given but these fundamental emotion are what unite football fans in their common passion for the sport. Not least feeds sports betting thrills the world over.
Right about now, though, there are going to be many Celtic fans that must be wondering how Leicester City got so lucky to avoid every single major powerhouse at Europe’s top club competition in what is essentially the defending champions’ first ever appearance at the prestigious competition.
Following match day 5, Leicester City, joined the likes of Man City, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona to name a few in the knockouts. Thanks in some part to a relatively wide open group that included Porto, Copenhagen and Club Brugge, Leicester City emerge group winners ahead of match day 6 with a 4-1-0 mark. It wasn’t even really that close in their section. This isn’t to take anything away from the Foxes, but it does seem as if Celtic have seen Barcelona way too many times in this competition in recent memory.
Drawn into a stacked field that included the aforementioned competition favourites priced at 4.00 in Champions League betting markets, along with Man City and Borussia M’gladbach, the Scottish champions were from the start the group minnows.
The football odds were stacked heavily against Celtic, not only to advance into the knockouts of Champions League but also to clinch third-place and, in turn, a second shot at European grandeur in UEFA Europa League.
In any event, all is not lost for Celtic. Unlike their English neighbours, Celtic are riding roughshod once again over the Premiership. Indeed, the domestic double – Scottish Premiership,Scottish Cup and League Cup – is still up for grabs and, importantly, nothing to scoff at.
Add to that the fact that it is the pursuit of a sixth Premiership title in a row, something few top clubs have accomplished across the European continent, Celtic fans have lots to be proud of. As it is, you can back Celtic to win the Premiership at 1.01.