Celtic host Atletico Madrid in their next Champions League group match on 25 October
Celtic players ran a full gamut of emotions in an agonising Champions League loss to Lazio.
Buoyed by an early breakthrough, there was disappointment in conceding a cheap equaliser. On top for large parts of the second half, elation was quickly followed by deflation when the video assistant referee intervened to rule out what looked like a late winner.
Then the cruellest of twists. Possession conceded near the edge of the box in the fifth of six minutes added on and, as sudden as a Glasgow downpour, the visitors had the ball in the net. Dumbfounded dismay.
And finally, stubborn defiance.
“We still believe,” right-back Alistair Johnston said. “Our minds are still on getting out of this group.”
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It looked like Brendan Rodgers’ side were on their way to a frustrating point, only to be hit by the latest of sucker-punches. Now they prop up Group E with nothing to show from two outings.
Next up is a double-header with Atletico Madrid. The Spaniards have been in two Champions League finals since Celtic last celebrated a home win in the tournament.
By the time Diego Simeone’s star-studded squad show up at Celtic Park in three weeks’ time, a 2-1 win over Ajax will be from a decade ago.
“We need to really dig in and find a way to get some points on the board against Atletico,” added Johnston. “We lose again and the ride is probably done.”
Captain Callum McGregor echoed those thoughts, saying: “The next game is massive now.
“We have to learn quickly. I’ve said it before, but it’s about concentration at this level.
“There’s nothing in this group that should scare us. The performance levels have been really good in large spells of both games.
“Tonight we were the team in the ascendancy. With 20 minutes to go, it looks like only we are going to win the game. That makes it sore, that you’ve done enough to probably win the game, never mind getting a draw.”
‘This was a huge chance missed’
By the lofty standards of this rarefied competition it appears damaging.
Yes, Lazio qualified as Serie A runners-up and boast a squad full of internationals, but they are the pot three team and form has been shaky this season, with only four teams worse off in the league after seven matches.
This was only a second Champions League away win in 17 attempts for the team from Rome.
“This was a chance, Feyenoord was a missed opportunity as well, but this is a huge one,” former Scotland forward James McFadden said on BBC Sportsound.
“Lazio looked like a team holding on for a draw. There are so many positives for Celtic to take, but how often can you say it?”
Rodgers had said he wanted his team to “start in fifth gear” and they duly obliged, with his forwards a blur of pressing motion.
Lazio were cut open by a slick passing move and Kyogo Furuhashi was celebrating his first Champions League goal after 12 minutes.
Celtic tried to keep their foot on the accelerator, but a lapse at a corner allowed Matias Vecino to level.
The hosts were the more menacing side after the interval and only the slightest touch from Daizen Maeda meant a Luis Palma strike was offside.
Substitute Cameron Carter-Vickers, given a hero’s reception on his return from injury, was guilty of losing the ball moments before Pedro’s decisive header.
“I don’t think Celtic are that far away, but you cannot play well for 93 minutes and switch off for two,” was the assessment of the club’s former winger, Aiden McGeady.
Johnston, unhappy with his own role in the game’s decisive moment, added: “You’ve got to find that balance when you’re pushing for the winner and feel like you’re on top and not leaving yourself vulnerable at the back.
“We all signed for this club to play in these kind of matches. The margins are so slim. One little slip and these kind of teams punish you.
“A lot of players showed they can play at this level, that they belong. We need to get a little more ruthless in both boxes. We need to find a way to turn those performances into wins.”
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