Gallant Celtic could have had their own 3-0 scoreline against Real Madrid - but class and composure told in the end

Class and composure told in the end as Real Madrid did what ought to have been expected of them in picking off Celtic with three second-half goals in the clubs’ Champions League opener.

Yet, Ange Postecoglou’s men will take heart rather than lose it as a result of the manner they competed with the holders in a thrilling first period, where they genuinely could have fashioned a 3-0 scoreline of their own so real was their attacking menace - Liel Adada failing to convert when twice one-on-one and Calum McGregor cracking the inside of the post. The home team were then fuelled by an intensity they could not sustain to lead them to fall prey to the true masters on this most unforgiving stage.

Yet, in the closing minutes, as Celtic supporters might have been expected to file to the exits as they licked their wounds over becoming all too giddy at the possibility of causing an upset, they chose - like their manager - to go down a different path. The sang the name of Ange Postecoglou at the top of their lungs in recognition of a gallantry of which he was the architect. It counted for nothing because Carlo Ancelotti’s men stepped up their levels following the break to hit Celtic with a knock-out one-two of goals inside four minutes. For the 56th minute opener, Federico Valverde paced down the right before crossing for Vinicius Jr to turn in, before sorcerer Luka Modric curled in from 10 yards, Celtic then starting to struggle more and more to close down their visitors in and around their area. Factors in Eden Hazard tucking in from close range 12 minutes from time.

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It may have been five years since Celtic Park had played host to a Champions League encounter, but nothing proved different about the courtship such encounters elicit. It is de rigueur for opposition managers to sweet talk about the attractiveness and arduousness of competing in the bone-shaking cauldron in Glasgow’s east end. Madrid manager Ancelotti certainly played along, offering sugar sentiments about the “difficulties” in playing at the stadium. At least he possessed a genuine insight in having failed to win in three trips to the arena with AC Milan (which he had no real recollection, notably). However, as doesn’t then always tend to follow on, when it counted the 63-year-old Italian demonstrated that he wasn’t just feeding toffee to his hosts. That became obvious when his first XI contained only one change from the starting line-up that, you know, just happened to bag the blooming trophy with victory over Liverpool in Paris in May; £72m summer arrival Aurelien Tchouameni filling the midfield berth vacated by the now Manchester United-based Casemiro.

It was a mark of respect for Postecoglou and his team over which the Australian would have been chuffed. In his bullish fashion, the Celtic manager maintained he not only hoped that the Spaniards would be fully tooled up, but that they would play to their very best in order to gauge where his team stood. You had to wonder if he privately was having second thoughts about such convictions as Karim Benzema (forced off with injury on the half hour), Luka Modric, Vinícius Jr, Thibault Courtois, Toni Kroos et al strode out on to the Parkhead pitch.

The Celtic manager unapologetically chose to strike an optimistic tone about how his team could fare against the toppermost of the toppermost in the global football firmament by daring to play the nought-to-60, high-pressing attacking style. The problem was that his team’s supporters seemed to gulp this down along with the Kool Aid in being gripped by the delusion a Madrid that had claimed five of the past nine Champions Leagues could find Celtic and their environs too hot to handle.

It seemed a madness, in no small part engendered by the 4-0 win over Rangers that was always destined to butt up against reality in a painful fashion. Yet, though it ultimately did, this should not take away from how genuinely exhilarating it was to watch Postecolgou’s team really take it to their illustrious visitors and unsettle them in an engrossing first period. The Celtic manager had said that if his players showed no fear they could not be failures - irrespective of the outcome. In that thrilling opening period - which followed an eardrum piercing wall of noise for the Zardok the Priest tournament theme - the mettle of the Scottish champions and their ability to manipulate the ball in tight areas against the very best was eye-popping. Such valiant defeats always seem to entail nearlys and ‘what ifs’. However, the disorientation that Celtic caused in the Madrid ranks in the opening 20 minutes made such feelings inescapable. They really did have Madrid on the rack. Within seconds, Abada choked his finish to allow Courtois to mop up after the winger had wriggled through on goal. This happened not once but twice to the Israeli in the opening exchanges. And he will have nightmares about the outcome when a sumptuous sweeping ball from Jota in the 13th minute sent him in on the Belgian keeper. He seemed certain to score, he is so lethal in such situations, but instead clipped a tame effort into the arms of Courtois. Celtic forced a series of corners throughout this lightning spell, but the Madrid goal could not be punctured. Not by an almighty biff from Reo Hatate the keeper had to batter away, or a ferocious drive by McGregor that beat him all ends up only to crash against the inside of the right post and bounce out. All indications it perhaps wasn’t meant to be, which Ancelotti’s men doubled down on with the devastation they saved for the second 45.

Celtic's Liel Abada misses one of several first half chances the hosts had to take the lead against Real Madrid at Celtic Park. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)



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