Minutes after Kris Commons scored what became a winning penalty for Celtic, after learning Benfica could only draw with Barcelona, it became party time at Celtic Park as their beloved Bhoys secured a spot in the UEFA Champions League knockout stage for the first time in five seasons.
With what manager Neil Lennon accepted was an inexperienced squad at the international level, a club that, he told Sky Sports, no one gave us a prayer going into the group,” it begs the question: how did Celtic do it?
As with any club, taking advantage of mistakes certainly helps. That was shown Wednesday night when Gary Hooper converted a Spartak Moscow miskick into Celtic’s first goal.
So often, players will credit their club’s fans for its success. The fans at Celtic Park may be among the most vocal in the world, and they have had plenty to celebrate during the Champions League season. Besides Wednesday night’s win, they watched Celtic stun Barcelona when the clubs met in November. That match was highly anticipated after Barca needed a stoppage-time score to tear a draw away from Celtic at the Camp Nou.
Then there is the style of play. As part of a group in which it was predicted to finish last, Celtic was willing to face the scorn — especially from the Spanish media after the Barca matches — for playing at a slower pace. Three wins and a draw proved this to be successful.
For many fans outside of Scotland, qualification might mean the pressure is off for Celtic: any more success is a bonus. Any player, however, wants more. For Celtic, that means the stakes, and pressure, have increased. How far can it go? It will depend on the three variables.