The plaudits showered on Celtic following their valiant efforts against Bayern Munich this week could not help but leave Dedryck Boyata with regrets. The 26-year-old admits to “frustration” over his calamitous error that led to the loss of the first goal against the German champions.
Ultimately, the concession of this opener against the run of play could be pinpointed as the reason why a terrific performance on a tumultuous night at Celtic Park brought no reward for Brendan Rodgers’ men. Boyata considers that Celtic’s Tuesday night exit from the competition was an opportunity missed rather than a display to invoke pride.
In the two seconds that followed his decision not to head away a hit-and-hope ball hoisted upfield by Bayern keeper Sven Ulreich in the 22nd minute on Tuesday night, the centre-back’s week was defined. His call-up to the Belgian squad, and his manager’s admission that he was determined to tie him down on a new long-term contract, all paled into insignificance.
Boyata did not shirk his responsibility for what happened to allow Kingsley Coman to net the crucial opening goal.
“They were playing with a fake number nine [Javi Hernandez]. I could see him in front of me and he actually stopped and I thought ‘OK, I am alone’. And then I saw Coman who plays on the left and was just behind me and I was like ‘Oh, I thought I was alone’.
“As soon as the ball bounced everything just went quick and yeah from that point you are just thinking ‘Oh God, what is going on?’ So I feel very frustrated.
“We played well but we left with zero points. At that level every mistake costs. The manager has been telling us right from the beginning that one mistake can kill us. You have to stay focused the whole game.
“We managed to find the strength to come back to 1-1 and they were shaky for a bit, yeah, but I feel very frustrated.”
For Boyata, the close nature of the contest meant the defeat proved far more gut-wrenching than being taken apart 5-0 by Paris Saint-Germain or 3-0 in Munich three weeks ago.
“Yeah it is harder to take. It is very hard. I was in the Press before the game and I was saying it was an opportunity to show them what we can do. That, whatever happened, we had nothing to lose but when you come that close to doing something you look back and you think ‘we gave them two goals’. I don’t know. Of course we are proud that in front of our crowd we showed them what we can do. The crowd stayed back to clap us, which is good, but we will all be thinking that we missed something.”
At the end of the midweek encounter, Boyata was so distraught he threw himself down on the turf before a posse of team-mates surrounded him to commiserate.
“We have a very good team spirit,” he said. “We have all been in the position before and we all lift each other in times when something goes wrong and of course the people came round me [on the pitch]. For me it is different because I am a person who is a perfectionist. Even if we win and I make a mistake I always think about it so with this it is even worse because we lost. So although we gave them [the fans] something, it is not good.
“You don’t just want to be there for show. It is an important tournament, you want to show yourself, you want to show Celtic is a good team.”
As a consequence of the Bayern reverse not only has the club’s Champions League’s exit – that was always a given – now been confirmed but prospects in the Europa League have potentially been reduced.
Celtic hold a three-point advantage over Anderlecht in pursuit of third place in Group B, courtesy of their 3-0 win in Brussels. With the Belgians to come to Celtic Park on the final matchday in a month, Rodgers’ team are in the box seat to remain in Europe after Christmas. Celtic travel to Paris in two weeks while Anderlecht host Bayern. Even if Anderlecht were then to produce a seismic shock and defeat the Germans as Celtic lost to PSG, Rodgers’ men would still only need to draw when the two clubs meet to stay in third by dint of their head-to-head record.
However, even if Celtic win at home to Anderlecht the six-point haul with which they will end their group is unlikely to make them one of the four best third-placed teams. If they are not in that quartet it will mean they are not seeded for the Europa League, and so could immediately find themselves drawn with such as Atletico Madrid in the last 32. Celtic have been talked up as a team that could go far in the Europa League, but they could also be eliminated at their first hurdle if up against an Atletico.
A point against Bayern in midweek would have given them the realistic opportunity of a seven-point haul and greatly enhanced their chances of being seeded. Of course, all of this is predicated on having a difficult, and fruitless, night in Paris but Boyata expresses no apprehension over what could ensue in the Parc des Princes.
“Playing against Bayern and PSG, two very good teams who you would say before the tournament would have a chance to win the whole thing, it is always good to show what you can do against them,” Boyata said.
“We will go to Paris and we will go with the same spirit that we had before and hopefully the way we played at home to Bayern will help to get something over there.”