After all, what preceded the 5-1 thumping in the Bernabeu were five Group F games when Ange Postecoglou’s men took only two points and scored only two goals. However, in all of those outings they rarely were outclassed as befell them during a messy second period in the Spanish capital. A period that followed the misfortune of Madrid converting two penalties in the first 19 minutes, only for Celtic to miss an award shortly afterwards as Josip Juranovic had his kicked saved by the brilliant Thibaut Courtois, going the right way as had eluded Joe Hart when facing up to Luka Modric and Rodrgyo. The Belgian keeper was immense throughout, his mountainous presence allowing him to beat away Reo Hatate, Kyogo Furuhashi, David Turnbull and Giorgos Giakoumakis as if swatting flies. It was a shock, indeed, when he could only get his fingertips to a curling Jota free-kick for Celtic’s 84th minute consolation.
A counter to bring a degree of relief, Madrid had looked in the mood to give their visitors a serious hiding. And Celtic looked incapable of preventing them from doing so. Three goals in a 20 minute second half spell didn’t seem it would be the only damage as Postecoglou’s men dropped off markers. They were punished with Marco Asensio hammering in from 14 yards in 51 minutes, and Rodrygo under no pressure as he unleashed a long ranger that found the target 20 minutes later. Inbetween these, Vinicious Junior getting betwen Carl Starfelt and Joe Hart to turn in a cross from the right in the 51st minute.
The Celtic support may have cheered their team to the rafters - and Jota’s arrival as a 63rd minute substitute certainly gave them a little late pep - but it was an evening to turn out as this travelling band must have feared. Especially since, from the get-go, nothing seemed as those of a Celtic disposition would have wanted in their first trip to the Bernabeu for 42 years. The top line in that was having nothing but pride to play for in the daunting footballing coliseum against the holders who have a propensity for dishing out woundings to even the game’s gliteratti. Compounding this was the fact it wasn’t a dead rubber for the hosts. Victory was required to make sure they finished at the summit of Group A and earned top seed status for the knock-out stages. Even the stadium redevelopment work robbed the occasion of some of its grandeur for the Scottish champions. The capacity being reduced by a quarter to 60,000 - not that it was full - meant Celtic only received 1,800 tickets. Officially. The fact that there were areas at both ends from which visiting fans were producing incessant singalongs - even as Madrid mastered their team - suggested some buying of home end briefs. Not that the home fans were mute. Led by their white-shirted choir situated in a tribune behind the goal otherwise closed for the installation of a retractable pitch as part of the one billion euro makeover.
Then there was the injury that counted out Celtic’s defensive mainstay Cameron Carter-Vickers, the glue in the Scottish champions’ byline. His absence resulted in Postecoglou pitching Carl Starfelt into his first game following two months sidelined with a knee injury. Not exactly the sort of exacting assignment to come into cold. The Swede acquitted himself reasonably well. As is their wont in the domain, Celtic were alright overall. In spells there was assurance in how they built possession and spread play. And, as is almost a given, there were good chances spurned. Not that Real weren’t guilty of greater wastefulness in front of goal, to be clear. It is hard to conclude that the confrontation turned on the penalty awards. Real demonstrated they exist in a different football stratosphere from Celtic. It was more than helpful, mind you, for them to enjoy humungous breaks with the spot-kicks they received as early as the fifth minute and then in the 19th minute. Technically, there could be no quibble with the calls of French referee Stephanie Frappart, officiating only her second game at this level. It ws just rotten luck for Moritz Jenz to connect with his arm when he twisted his body to attempt to block a shot with his chest. Matt O’Riley didn’t know much about a Rodrygo shot, but it did hit his elbow when his arm was up and slightly away from his body.
What was more unforgivable was that Celtic passed up the chance to respond in kind to these two goals. They showed real character to keep breaking forward and constructing openings following these two bodyblows and ought to have made these endeavours count. Liel Abada bursting forward down the right channel of the box in the 26th minute provided them a golden opportunity to do so thanks to Ferland Mendy sliding in and halting the Israeli’s run without making contact with the ball. Juranovic hadn’t missed from the spot for Celtic but he never looked like extending the sequence when he struck the ball weakly and at saveable height to Courtois’ right. Just another occasion when a Celtic player should have burst the net in this campaign but left the support with their heads bursting over the failure to do so.