The Bhoys flop out of Europe with a whimper
It was a group where you were always hoping for a small miracle. Being in a group with such football giants such as AC Milan, Ajax and Barcelona meant that Celtic were always going to be looking to claim a runners-up spot in the group to make the last 16.
Now, the most pragmatic amongst us would have looked at the games against Ajax in Holland and Glasgow and thought that they would be the ones which would ultimately determine Celtic’s fate in the group.
To a degree this has been the case, but after suffering defeat to Ajax in Amsterdam, the final nail in the Celtic coffin was the 3-0 defeat by AC Milan at Parkhead in matchday five of the Champions League. This demolition by the Italians (and it was men v boys at times) officially knocked Celtic out of the Champions League – but it also meant they wouldn’t finish in third place which would see them qualify for the Europa League.
Kaka headed the only goal of a largely even and entertaining first half. But Milan took charge after the break as Cristian Zapata and Mario Balotelli added further goals to end Celtic’s hopes of another crack at the last 16. It leaves them firmly rooted to the bottom of Group H, with just three points and a solitary win at home to Ajax.
Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk missed the home side’s best chance early in the second half when the hosts were 1-0 down – scoring this simple chance may well have changed the course of the game. But it didn’t… sadly.
Barcelona’s defeat by Ajax in Amsterdam also puts the Dutch side out of reach in third place, meaning Celtic do not even have the solace of Europa League football for the rest of the season.
This means that Celtic will finish rock-bottom of their group, they won’t participate in European football and they will miss out on a considerable amount of television money too. Defeat now means that Celtic will only have domestic matters to focus on after Christmas, giving them the chance to try and re-claim their SPL crown as well as securing the Scottish Cup.
Speaking after the somewhat anti-climactic defeat, Celtic Manager Neil Lennon blamed the loss of key players as well as the lack of cutting edge in from of goal for the loss.
“We’ve competed again tonight but just that quality at the top end of the pitch has caught up with us,” he said. Some of the players have covered themselves in glory but it’s mainly in the defensive end of the pitch that we’re talking about here.”
“Tonight has been symptomatic of our campaign. We’ve missed good chances. The Virgil [van Dijk] chance was a great chance and at 1-1 the game could’ve gone either way. Then we go and concede again from a corner and that’s been the most disappointing aspect, as has the opportunities we missed.
“I’m really disappointed with the two goals we’ve conceded from corners because we take a lot of pride in that. We lost our concentration. Big moments in the game changed the course of the game. Milan took their chances when they came along, albeit we were contributors to our own downfall.
“When our opportunities arose – [Beram] Kayal, [Charlie] Mulgrew, Van Dijk, [James] Forrest – we snatched at them and that was the difference in the game.”
“We have had a very heavy start to the season and injuries and suspensions do catch up on you,” said Lennon.
“We lost some big players – [Adam] Matthews, Scott Brown, [Nir] Biton and then losing Kayal tonight as well. That’s three midfield players out of five. When the squad’s not as big as some other squads it does tend to bite you.
“Realistically, getting into the Champions league was fantastic for us. When the draw was made we knew how difficult it was going to be.”
Lennon added: “We’re going well domestically and we’ve got a big game on Sunday (against Hearts in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup) and that’s a good one to get our teeth into after tonight. If we’re going to look to the future and continue to play in the Champions League, we have to improve with the squad we have now and we have to improve on recruitment as well for next year.”
Despite the defeat, Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster says that Celtic need to look towards the future and is already planning on another stab at progressing in the Champions League.
He said: “The league is always the most important thing. If we get it right in the league, we’ll get another crack at the Champions League next year.”We were playing against a top quality team with top quality individuals,
“Those moments of quality that they had just took the game away from us. We were a bit unlucky. We had chances but it just wasn’t meant to be.
“We’ve done well to get this far. We’ve loved every minute of being in the Champions League. That’s where you want to play and the lads can be really proud of what we’ve done. We’ve got one more game against Barcelona that we can go and enjoy.”
Mikael Lustig was not so upbeat, with the defeat coming soon after Sweden’s World Cup hopes were dashed in a play-off with Portugal.
“It’s been a bad week,” said the Celtic right-back. “I had a big dream to play in the World Cup and now that’s over. I know what it’s like to play in the last 16 (of the Champions League) and now that is over.
“Right now we are really disappointed. Every player want to play in the Champions League or the Europa League. We need to go home and maybe be a little bit sad but then we need to focus on Sunday (a Scottish Cup visit to Hearts).”
Reflecting on the defeat in which Celtic had double the shots on goal AC Milan managed, Lusting said: “It felt like when we faced Juventus last year. We were well in the game, we had most of the ball and created chances.
“We haven’t conceded a goal from a corner in almost two years and we do it twice tonight. Of course when they scored we had to go forward but I don’t think Milan created so many chances. To win games we need to be good in our box and be good in their box as well – and weren’t that today.
“We played decent but if you want to win games at this level you need something extra and we haven’t had it in this campaign. If you compare it to last year, I think we maybe created more chances this time but we have not been good enough to score them.”
The riches of the Champions League will be one thing that Celtic won’t be able to draw upon after the Barcelona game later this month, which will pose the a potential number of headaches over the January transfer window.
For the recent years, Celtic have been able to dangle the carrot of European football to any potential recruits in the transfer window. This year, it’ll be different, and they won’t be able to. That said, there’s probably going to have to be one monumental turnaround for Celtic not to win the SPL title this year.
With the lack of European football, this would mean that they can now solely focus on retaining the SPL, each and every time, they’re stepping further away from the rest of the SPL, as well as (and some would argue this is the most important element) moving further away from Rangers.
However, participation in the Champions League group stage could see the Scottish champions earn an extra £7m.
BT Sport won exclusive live rights to show Champions League and Europa League matches in the UK from 2015, paying almost £900m for the privilege. That is more than double the current deal with Sky and ITV, which is good news for the British teams involved.
Celtic earned just under £7m in TV revenue last term and that figure could increase to more than £14m by 2015-16. The Glasgow club’s total Champions League income in 2012-13, when they reached the last 16, exceeded £22m.
Almost £7m was their share of the “market pool”, which relates to the size of the domestic broadcast deal for European competition. In this case, the Scottish champions get 10% of the market pool for the UK if they reach the group stage.
That pot varies in size from year to year, but, if their share were to rise proportionally with the increase in the broadcast deal, they would receive about £14.35m the season after next.