An early goal from Xavi Hernández booked FC Barcelona's place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals with victory against Celtic FC, although the Spanish side were made to work for their win by opponents who grew in confidence and will regret the handful of errors which ultimately decided the tie.
Having edged the first leg in Glasgow 3-2, Barcelona were strong favourites to reach the last eight against the Scottish champions, who had never won a knockout tie in UEFA competition after losing the first game and were without an away success in the UEFA Champions League. Celtic's prospects looked bleaker still when Xavi increased Barcelona's aggregate advantage in the third minute with his fifth goal in eight matches, yet the visitors never lost heart and pressed their hosts until the final whistle.
Whatever else Gordon Strachan's team talk had included, he would certainly have underlined the importance of not conceding an early goal – sadly for Celtic, however, their deficit grew almost instantly. The Glasgow outfit were still feeling their way into an unfamiliar 4-2-3-1 formation when Barça struck with thrilling speed. Celtic right-back Mark Wilson was making his first start since September and was ill-prepared for a smart reverse pass by Ronaldinho, allowing Sylvinho to race past the defender and deliver a cross which Xavi flicked past Artur Boruc.
That might have dispirited Celtic, who had recorded 15 defeats in their 16 away games in the UEFA Champions League and only one draw – at Camp Nou. Ronaldinho's fizzing shot which Boruc parried uncomfortably added to the sensation that the Catalan side were about to cut loose, but Strachan's team rallied and began to use possession with more intelligence and calmness. However, no matter how difficult Celtic made it for the 2006 tournament winners, it was clear Ronaldinho was back on form and enjoying himself. The Brazilian crafted openings for Xavi and Samuel Eto'o before producing a magical disguised pass into the path of Carles Puyol. The defender is no penalty-area expert yet so good was the assist that it needed a fine reaction save from Boruc.
The momentum of Frank Rijkaard's men was momentarily interrupted as Lionel Messi limped off in tears following a collision with Massimo Donati, and despite Messi's replacement by Thierry Henry, Barça reached the break without turning pressure into more goals. With Evander Sno coming on for Donati, Celtic started the second period with greater verve. Frustrating the Blaugrana and the home crowd, Sno and Scott Brown combined for a lovely crossfield move which required a super block from Sylvinho. Celtic were now on the charge and the match became stretched, although such an approach inevitably incited Barcelona – Boruc had to save from Eto'o after an elegant one-two with Ronaldinho.
A Deco strike brought another home corner on the hour, yet for all Barça's pressure it was Celtic's Aiden McGeady who increasingly stood out. Quick, confident on the ball and always keen to take on his defender, his skills and work ethic gave the noisy Celtic supporters something to cherish from a dignified end to their European campaign. It is Barcelona, however, who will take their place in the quarter-final draw in Nyon on 14 March.