Thursday, March 08, 2007
The dream ended tonight in Milan for Celtic where they fell gallantly to a Kaka goal two minutes into injury-time. It was not a terrible surprise though it was sad to see us bow out after such a spirited fight; of course I'm not going to deny that once again the difference in class was obvious, nor that Celtic gave away far too much ball in the middle third of the field (most notably when Evander Sno lost the ball that led to the goal), nor that Milan were not terribly good on the night. But the manner and attitude with which Celtic broached the challenge was a refreshing change from many of their previous away-from-home assignments in Europe. Even if there was little edge up front, Celtic did not shy from pushing to try and catch the locals off guard, and they even played a bit of attractive football in the meantime. If Nak had been still on the field for the final free-kick a minute from time we might be in the draw for the next round. But hypotheses have no more place in football than they do in real life. Celtic are not as good a side as Milan and neither would they have been even if they had gone through (though Liverpool triumphed over Milan in Istanbul two years ago without being better than them either). There was a bracing mix of realism and romanticism in Gordon Strachan's game plan tonight and at the back Stephen McManus and young Darren O'Dea were a marked improvement on the leakiness of two weeks ago. Celtic played well and battled all the way, and no, they were not just happy to be on the same field as Berlusconi's men. Moreover, given the bad blood that has directed the flow of footballing emotions across Europe in the past few months, the dignified way that Strachan and his men, and the fans accepted their defeat, despite their clear devastation, was exemplary. People who know Celtic well also know that it is not a club to be identified with a minority of sectarian thugs and muppets that turn up to protest against 'foreign sports' wearing its colours. Hopefully we'll play that way more often in Europe next year.