By Graham Hunter in Barcelona
Martin O'Neill left the Camp Nou stadium in something approaching a state of shock that his Celtic FC side had eliminated one of the best teams in Europe without needing to score a goal in the second leg of this absorbing tie.
O’Neill led Celtic to the UEFA Cup final last season but the immense satisfaction of watching his team beat FC Barcelona without conceding a goal across two games was clearly a matter of huge pride, and some surprise, for the former Northern Irish international.
O'Neill said: "This draw which puts us in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup is something special. I'd place this result right up with some of our greatest evenings last season. But I must admit that I never thought 1-0 in the first leg would be anything like enough to see us through. I'm delighted to have got that wrong!"
Gamble paid off
O'Neill's gamble on playing John Kennedy at centre-half, instead of the half-fit Johan Mjällby paid off, as did his faith in young reserve goalkeeper David Marshall, who replaced the suspended Rab Douglas: "Marshall stopped to do a television interview after the game so he was last into the dressing room, and he got a massive round of applause. It’s all downhill for him now after an experience like this."
The 0-0 draw, which allowed Celtic to progress courtesy of their 1-0 win in Glasgow, largely hinged on the fact that Barcelona made few clear chances, missed Javier Saviola and were victims of a smothering midfield war of attrition. Not only did Ronaldinho have a relatively quiet night but Xavi, normally the motor of this Catalan team, was denied the chance to run the game and kick-start Barça’s passing movements because of incessant pressure on him from Neil Lennon and Stilian Petrov.
Barça coach Frank Rijkaard admitted: "This is a very sad moment for the club - the UEFA Cup is a trophy we really wanted to win. However, I'm content that the team gave me everything that they had.
It takes two teams to make a good game and unfortunately Celtic came to impose their game and to defend.
The Dutchman added: "I congratulate Celtic for going through but at the same time I notice that we had almost 70 per cent possession of the ball. Normally if that is the case a team will win eight times out of ten - but not tonight."
Barça lost Carles Puyol to a first-half injury which seemed to be a reccurence of the hip problem he incurred in domestic action on Sunday. But despite the Catalan defender reappearing in civilian clothes after the interval to visibly urge on his team-mates, the elusive goal never came. It was a gritty performance, but Petrov said: "
We have beaten one of the great European sides, a team which has been on form, and that is the most important point of the night."
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