Thursday, 19 September 2013

 Making it count...
In the wake of Celtic’s unfortunate loss in the San Siro, it’s worth considering if our defeat was due to bad luck, poor finishing of a combination of both. For many of us it’s an old story of dominating large periods of a game only to see the sucker punch arrive and undo all our good efforts. There is no doubt that we are in our most difficult ever Champions’ League Group but Lennon’s team is becoming more experienced and more confident on their travels. The Italian sporting press were clear that Milan were poor but they were also complimentary to Celtic. Gazzetta Dello Sport as you would expect rounded on Milan’s poor display by saying…
Miracle at San Siro: AC Milan collected their first three points with a 2-0 win against Celtic at the end of a game memorable only for its rare ugliness. At times it was unsuitable for a prestigious stage of the top European competition. For periods it was the Celtic salt which was shaking the San Siro. De Jong prevented Brown scoring and Stokes rattled the crossbar. But football is crazy and Zappata’s low shot, deviated by Izaguire and Forster can do nothing. And that’s not all, Muntari doubles Forster’s pain after Balotelli was lucky to escape punishment and the referee gave him the foul! Incredible! I don’t know how Milan won this game!’
An ordinary AC Milan fan commented in the section below the report of the game in Gazzetta Dello Sport…’I never thought I’d see Celtic come to the San Siro and have more ball possession than Milan. 3 points was a miracle!’ Tiscali Sport was also clear that while Milan played poorly, Celtic were a useful team…
You could see Celtic grow in this game and force the Rossonerri onto the defensive. In the second half the guests take a more control of the operation and Milan suffers, defending with nails and teeth the vehement attacks by Lennon’s men: Samaras misses the post with a fireball from the edge of the box and a near goal by Commons is deflected by Mexes. On 34 minutes the crossbar is rattled by a shot from Stokes. Milan is very fortunate. However,  three minutes later, when Zapata’s a low shot which was not great but was deflected by Izaguirre for 1-0.‘
 Other Italian sports pages were clear that Celtic were worthy of a point. Giornalettismo Sports Paper commented on the game…
‘’Two goals, three points, zero game. This is the perfect summary of the game played by Milan. Sure, there were the injured to weigh the bill but that cannot provide an alibi for the expensive squad. Against a Celtic who deserved at least one point you could and should do more. Milan appeared incoherent and devoid of ideas.’’
Most of you reading this will agree that the team was a little unfortunate to lose the game but as we’ve seen on ECL away days such as Lyon,(2-3)  Bayern Munich, (1-2)  Juventus (2-3) and Manchester United (2-3) the very highest echelons of European football is a ruthless and unforgiving place. It’s no use bemoaning bad luck because it happens to Celtic far too often to be down to luck. It’s all about scoring when those rare chances come along. We did it Moscow last season when we scored three goals from 4 or 5 half decent chances. We did it in the home tie with Barcelona when we somehow managed to win with barely 25% ball possession. In the San Siro we had several good opportunities but the end product was lacking. Perhaps the confines of Scottish football don’t demand enough to hone Celtic’s finishing skills to the level required. That ruthless streak required at the very top level simply isn’t there. Scott Brown had a great shooting opportunity in the second half and De Jong was on him blocking the shot in a heartbeat. Compare that to the static defending when Balotelli’s free kick was palmed into danger zone by Forster. Three Italians could have forced the rebound home as our defence stood and watched. It’s those small things which make the difference at this level.
This weekend, Celtic will face St Johnstone, while Milan face a strong Napoli team which deservedly defeated Borrusia Dortmund this week. The stronger European leagues demand a higher level of performance every week and that perhaps is the difference. The fact that the very best players will naturally gravitate to the greater financial rewards of the big leagues also contributes to this lack of parity. That being said football remains 11 against 11 and with determination and a bit of belief the underdog can still emerge victorious. We’ve seen Celtic beat technically superior teams on a good few occasions because football is about guts and heart as much as technical and tactical ability.
So we approach the upcoming games with some confidence. We played well and dominated possession at the home stadium of the seven times European champions. We defended fairly well in the first 80 minutes and had we taken the lead might well have won. The vital first goal took a huge deflection on its way in although the closing down was slow.  On the first day of October our old adversaries Barcelona will come to Celtic Park. Just a year ago we defeated them so they will be out for revenge. It has all the makings of a classic encounter played in the midst of the finest atmosphere in European Football. Can we discover our ruthlessness as we did last year? I think we can but it’s a huge mountain to climb as Ajax found out in the Nou Camp.  Every fan must raise the roof and drive the team on. With a little luck we might see lightning strike twice in the same spot. Being Celtic fans means we always have hope in our hearts but it’s tempered by realism and the knowledge that everything has to come together on the night for us. This group is the hardest we’ve ever faced but we’ll face it bravely and 60,000 of us will back the team to the hilt and see how the dice fall. Whatever happens our visitors will know they’ve been in one of the great arenas of world football.
There is an old Italian saying which goes: ‘Meglio un giorno da leone che cento da pecora.’ It translates as ‘Better one day as a lion than one hundred as a sheep.’  I hope we can discover our roar and perhaps add some bite to it too. Our days of being lambs to the slaughter should be well over. We live in hope. Come on you Bhoys in green!


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