JOHN MCGARRY: The Green Brigade score huge own goal with Palestinian protest that missed the mark
- Fans defied another club order on flags during their game on Wednesday night
- Celtic are set to be hit with a further UEFA disciplinary charge for the display
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’
As they alighted at Celtic Park 90 minutes prior to kick-off, the eyes of the Atletico Madrid players could not possibly have missed the single gold star which sits on top of the main stand.
Symbolising the European Cup which Jock Stein’s players won in 1967, the trophy has been a burden to those with a lifetime of devotion to Los Colchoneros.
Three times a finalist but never a winner. Despite their untold wealth, close but no cigarro.
As open goals go for a home support, they just don’t get any more glaring. Sure, your bunch of hatchetmen beat us in 1974 but you still couldn’t get your hands on the big-eared boy that we lifted in Lisbon seven years beforehand.
A sentiment worthy of the tifo to beat them all, you might have thought.
The Green Brigade distributed Palestinian flags outside the ground before kick-off
As well as a choreographed display, fans raised individual flags against the wishes of their club
Atletico Madrid sported a changed home strip in tribute to their ‘heroes’ of 49 years ago
This, after all, was no ordinary Champions League night. Revelling in the ‘no one likes us — we don’t care’ mentality that has served them so well down the years, Atletico could scarcely have been more provocative in the build-up.
Their explanation of wearing an all-red jersey in tribute to their ‘heroes’ of 49 years ago was fooling no one. It was a naked act of antagonism. Including two of the veterans from that infamous episode in their travelling party was just doubling down on it.
If ever an occasion called for the Green Brigade to respond with the kind of striking, inspiring display which they have produced down the years then this was surely it.
But there was no bragging about ’67. No reminder that Stein cradled the trophy that evaded his vilified Atletico counterpart, Juan Carlos Lorenzo. No image of Billy McNeill raising it to the heavens. No reminder that Atletico actually lost to Bayern Munich in the ’74 final.
There was nothing bar the flying of hundreds of Palestinian flags that had been distributed outside the ground by the Green Brigade before kick-off and a montage in the corner which they occupy.
Notwithstanding the fact that this was in direct contravention of UEFA competition rules and that the club had reminded supporters that ‘Celtic Park is where we come to support our football club’, the current team deserved — and needed — so much better than another political display at a football match. Goodness knows, against the form team in La Liga, they could have done with all the inspiration they could find.
This hotly anticipated game also didn’t require any sideshows. Brimming with history, intrigue, subplots and pantomime villains, this should have been a football match to savour purely on its own merits.
It certainly did not disappoint — an exhilarating contest in which Celtic were truly outstanding and at least deserving of a share of the spoils.
This was always going to be a different task to the one Celtic faced when Madrid’s city rivals Real came to town a year ago.
For all the world-class talents in their ranks, Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata chief among them, Atletico’s real strength is their collective.
If anyone ever feels compelled to write the definitive book on the dark arts of the game, their manager, Diego Simeone, might just merit his own chapter.
A win-at-all-costs streetfighter, the side he’s created in the Spanish capital is in his own image.
Before his team could even come up for air, though, they were behind.
In a carbon copy of the goal against Lazio, Kyogo Furuhashi and Matt O’Riley combined to devastating effect, working a one-two that saw the Japanese penetrate Atletico’s defence. With little target to aim at, his finish into the far corner was exquisite.
Manager Brendan Rodgers had talked the previous day about how the stadium would be on fire and in those moments it certainly was.
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Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers (right) had talked the previous day about how the stadium would be on fire
Celtic were truly outstanding against the LaLiga giants and were deserving of a draw
Joe Hart did well to guide Griezmann’s initial spot-kick onto the post but could do nothing to prevent the forward converting the rebound
Even the early withdrawal of Reo Hatate didn’t spook Celtic in the way it might. His replacement, Paulo Bernardo, got up with the pace of the game immediately and even left one on a visiting defender for good measure.
Normally content to concede possession and counter at pace, the early goal forced Simeone to change strategy. With Griezmann gliding across the park and producing pirouettes when he’d no right to, Atletico began knocking on the door.
Joe Hart did well to deny the Frenchman with his legs after he ghosted in behind.
Another night, another lapse in concentration. This time, it was Greg Taylor who clipped the ankles of Nahuel Molina. Despite his protests, he clearly caught his opponent’s ankle.
Hart did well to guide Griezmann’s initial spot-kick onto the post but could do nothing to prevent the forward converting the rebound.
What resilience Celtic showed thereafter. Just three minutes after that wounding psychological blow, Taylor instigated the move that saw Daizen Maeda’s cross run all the way to Luis Palma.
The Honduran’s finish was breathtaking. Denied by VAR against Lazio, he milked the moment for all it was worth.
Atletico had their moments but the sight of Simeone throwing his hands up in frustration was a welcome sight to the home fans.
Only a fine stop by Jan Oblak prevented O’Riley doubling Celtic’s lead at the break. As they made their way up the tunnel, the crowd rose as one to acknowledge the fact that they could simply have given no more.
The impact of Simeone’s substitutes was telling. Marcos Llorente, in particular, was an immediate threat down the right. His advance caught Taylor in two minds. Morata executed a precise conversion of his cross to level.
With Celtic now looking unsure of themselves, Rodgers brought on Nat Phillips and reshaped to a back-five.
Facing perhaps the fittest team in world football, they inevitably tired. As the heavy touches began to punctuate their play and deprive them of chances, the stadium clock seemed to go slower and fans began watching the action through the cracks in their fingers.
Rodrigo De Paul was dismissed late on for a second booking which helped to energise Celtic
Hart’s outstretched leg prevented Angel Correa netting shortly after being brought on, but the pressure was becoming relentless. Furuhashi could scarcely find the strength to walk to the sidelines to make way for James Forrest.
The dismissal of Rodrigo De Paul for a second booking helped to energise Rodgers’ players but the one gilt-edged chance they craved to win it did not materialise.
Having suffered at the hands of Feyenoord and Lazio, however, a richly deserved point against the group favourites was still welcome. The 10-year wait to win a game in the competition goes on, but this changed the narrative of what’s been a luckless campaign to date.
Celtic are on the board and will feel capable of gleaning points if they can replicate this level of display in their three remaining fixtures. That is really all that anyone should have been discussing last night.
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