Captain Scott Brown called it an "incredible achievement", while manager Neil Lennon described Celtic FC's qualification for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League as a "miracle". A long-awaited away victory and a memorable home win against FC Barcelona were among the highlights of a group stage campaign which culminated in Kris Commons firing the Scottish club into the knockout phase from the penalty spot. Backed by their raucous supporters, the Bhoys have proved they are a match for any side at Celtic Park.
Story so far
Reaching the group stage was the target for Celtic this season, but having vanquished HJK Helsinki and Helsingborgs IF in qualifying, the Glasgow club surpassed all expectations by progressing to the last 16. With the Hoops pitched against Barcelona, SL Benfica and FC Spartak Moskva in Group G, most observers thought they would do well to secure third place, a view reinforced by an opening-day goalless draw against Benfica.
However, Celtic's campaign gained real momentum in Moscow on matchday two with a 3-2 victory over Spartak, their first away success in 21 fixtures in Europe's premier club competition. They were 30 seconds from taking an improbable point from Barcelona at the Camp Nou before recording one of their greatest results with a 2-1 home win against Tito Vilanova's side.
Defeat in Lisbon meant Neil Lennon's men needed to better Benfica's result at Barcelona on matchday six and Commons' penalty eight minutes from time against Spartak ensured Celtic advanced to the knockout stages for the first time in five years.
Without a doubt the highlight of the group stage was the 2-1 victory over Barcelona on a never-to-be-forgotten night at Celtic Park. Just as they did in Catalonia, Celtic took a first-half lead – this time through Victor Wanyama – but were then penned back for long spells before teenage striker Tony Watt came off the bench to score the decisive goal with seven minutes left. Not even Lionel Messi's added-time consolation could take the shine off one of the greatest wins in the club's history, an outcome that reduced the watching Rod Stewart to tears.
Fraser Forster's goalkeeping heroics in the two games against Barcelona led to him being described as 'La Gran Muralla' (The Great Wall) by the Spanish press and also earned the 24-year-old his first call-up to the England squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers versus San Marino and Poland.
Wanyama chose the number 67 shirt in honour of Celtic's famous Lisbon Lions side and the Kenyan international's strength, dynamism and composure in possession means he is a key figure in a team which has now been dubbed Lenny's Lions. A bargain purchase from Belgian outfit K. Beerschot AC for around €1.1m, the midfielder has been a revelation, but his performances in the group stage have alerted Europe's biggest clubs and Lennon knows he has a fight on his hands to retain the 21-year-old.
Celtic's tally of ten points is the highest secured by a Scottish club in the UEFA Champions League group stage.
"I'm very proud of the players – they have performed a miracle. No one gave us a prayer coming into this group, but we've qualified and deservedly so. These are very exciting times for everyone at the club and now we have something to really get our teeth into in the new year." Lennon looks forward the round of 16 in the spring
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