CELTIC are in far greater need of points than plaudits from their Champions League campaign, but the warm words of Cesc Fabregas towards them will be welcomed nonetheless.
Barcelona’s £40 million attacking midfielder delivered the telling blow of Tuesday night’s Group H encounter at Celtic Park, his brilliantly directed 75th-minute header soaring over Fraser Forster to claim all three points for the top seeds.
It leaves the Spanish champions firmly on course to top the section but Fabregas believes Celtic can still join them in the last 16 of the tournament, despite being winless and goalless so far.
The former Arsenal captain has now faced both Ajax and Celtic at close quarters – he helped Barcelona crush the Amsterdam club 4-0 at the Nou Camp on matchday one – and believes Neil Lennon’s men can come out on top in the forthcoming double header between the teams.
“Ajax and Celtic were two very different games for us,” said Fabregas. “We played Ajax in front of our own fans but it is always very tough against Celtic at Parkhead. They play very well on the counter-attack and their fans push them hard all the way but, in the end, I think we played a good game on Tuesday night and we deserved the victory.
“Can they beat Ajax over the next two games? Listen, I think Celtic can beat anyone, especially at home. They have a very good team, they have great commitment and they also have those supporters behind them, which means they really can beat anyone in Glasgow. Everything is still possible for them in this group.
“Even though we are on top of the group, we don’t feel relaxed at all now because there are still many points to play for. But to come to Glasgow and beat one of the toughest opponents we will have to face away from home, that was crucial.
“I wasn’t surprised by how hard Celtic fought once they went down to ten men. I played here with Arsenal in 2009, I’ve watched them many times on TV and, of course, we lost here last year. So we knew what we were coming into and what we would be up against. For me, it is always special to play in this fantastic stadium and to experience this atmosphere. We are privileged to be here.”
Fabregas was one of the first Barcelona players to remonstrate with French referee Stephane Lannoy after Celtic captain Scott Brown’s foul and kick-out at Neymar which led to the midfielder’s dismissal with the match still goalless.
“I didn’t see the incident, to be honest,” added Fabregas. “Neymar said that Brown stepped on his back but I haven’t seen it again yet. Brown didn’t complain much, though.
“I think it’s tricky to call that red card the turning point of the evening. Sometimes playing against ten men can make the game even more difficult.
“What happened was that Celtic then played for the 0-0 and dropped deep. That made it harder for us because we then had to catch them on the counter-attack.
“Even then, they had two chances, with the [James Forrest] shot from outside the box and the header [by Charlie Mulgrew] from the corner. So they could have scored against us, even with ten men.
“We had to be careful because we knew it was very important for us to win the game.”