Game in a Sentence
Some luck and 90 minutes of very hard work allow Celtic to enter the knockout phase of the Champions League.
- Celtic needed a win against a manager-less Spartak (Unai Emery was sacked a week and change ago) already eliminated from the Champions League. So why cover this non-humdinger of a match while Chelsea and Nordge Land miss about 73 penalties between them? Well children, because this is Celtic. Celtic of the SPL. In 2012. This is basically the club’s equivalent of beating Inter in the 1967 European Cup final (not really at all). We always knew it would be a nail-biter.
- I’m not mathecist, so I can’t add up all them numbers on the table and such. What you need to know is Benfica had to lose or draw against a “second-string” Barcelona (kind of like an “affordable Manhattan condo”), and Celtic had to win, in order for the Hoops to join Barca in the knockout stage.
- Meanwhile for Spartak this kind of seemed like an ad for certain players to show off ahead of a new manager, as caretaker coach Valery Karpin looked all manner of displeased at all times. Still, despite all that they looked like a shade of a decent side, lining up in a 4-2-3-1 with Emmanuel Emenike up front and an initially effective Ari up right.
- Four Four Two Celtic! Samaras and Hooper were a joy to watch, in all seriousness. Commons and Brown worked very hard in the midfield.
- The Run of Play: I’ve been ensconced in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast Thinking Slow, and he writes in part about an interesting phenomenon in which a person in a good mood will be more creative but will make more mistakes, and a person in a bad mood will be more focused and careful with detail, but less able to improvise. I can think of no better application than this game.
- Spartak for one were out there to have fun and preserve dignity. And so we saw a side with some individual talents at their creative best, particularly Emenike, who seemed for a while able to beat just about every Celtic defender in his way, but unable to get any of the details right in his shooting. Ari meanwhile was adept at opening up some space and movement, but on the whole Spartak were disjointed.
- Meanwhile Celtic were all sharp-focused business. The game plan for large stretches seemed to involve pinging long balls to Samaras, expecting him to hold possession against the odds (which he did, to perfection), and then move along with Hooper, Kayal, Brown and Commons in support. They looked better in the flesh than they did on paper, but they managed to avoid any costly mistakes when it counted.
- So it was no surprise that the first goal, courtesy of Hooper, came courtesy of a terrible touch from Juan Inssauralde in central defense from a searching long ball from Samaras. Hooper quickly took an opportunistic shot that sailed to the left of Pesyakov and into the net, perfectly executed. Parkhead was rocking and the camera cut predictably to Rod Stewart.
- The lead, earned in the 21st minute of play, lasted a whole 18 minutes. Emenike, who finally discovered he was unable to shoot with any accuracy or threat, found himself ahead of the Celtic defense with Ari running into space on his right. Waiting for just the right moment, he passed, and Ari chipped Forster, with Celtic unable to clear. The noise drained out of the building.
- The rest of the game, mostly the second half really, showed Celtic working to overcome their individual limitations. The psychological blow of Spartak introducing former Celtic winger Aiden McGeady in the 61st minute did little to calm the sense that Celtic were working their way to a goal advantage, mostly through a series of hard-fought set-pieces (Celtic had 11 corners to Spartak’s 1). It would not have been surprising if a goal didn’t come, but it sure looked like it was going to (which you’ll note doesn’t mean a goddamn thing).
- Then the penalty in the 82nd minute, off a foul on Samaras by Suchy, who stuck out his leg dumbly and ran into the forward, but wasn’t helped by Samaras’ embellishment. Anyway, whatever. Football! Commons simply smashed the living hell out of the ball and it bounced off the bar and in the net, beautifully it should be said.
- For a dying ten minutes, Spartak didn’t much look like threatening the Celtic goal. There was some lovely time wasting shenanigans from Samaras and co at the corner flag in extra time, but it as Benfica Barca ended 0-0, you knew it was a matter of time. TEARS of ROD!
- Not that any of this matters because MESSI HURT HIS LEG.