It’s one year since the night that could have been for Celtic.
While the final scoreline on our big Champions League return read Celtic 0-3 Real Madrid, the story of the match was very different.
The Hoops had attacked the La Liga champions during a frantic first half that somehow finished goalless. Liel Abada’s big chance, Callum McGregor smacking the post, Daizen Maeda after the break. You know the rest.
In the second period, the Spanish giants eventually upped their quality and eased past a Celtic side with little left to give. The final result was a sobering one. Yet there was so much positivity to take away.
Perhaps the most amazing part of that encounter was the belief that had soared in the lead-up to kick-off. Without having conducted a definitive poll at the time, it seemed like the majority of the Celtic support believed that the team could and would beat Madrid.
So a year down the line, does that same optimism exist ahead of a fresh Champions League campaign?
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The short answer is almost certainly no. Expectations are not particularly high for this 2023/24 squad against Feyenoord, Atletico Madrid and Lazio. Nobody is writing us off, but there does seem to be a lot more realism this time around.
Perhaps that’s just the nature of last season’s campaign which saw us take two points from six matches — our worst ever group stage performance. Maybe the relatively dull start to the domestic season and summer transfer window has played its part too.
But how often have Celtic defied the odds in Europe over the years? Wouldn’t it just be typical for us to do something special when everyone is least expecting it?
Former boss Ange Postecoglou was always keen to make the point that progress was dependent on Celtic continuing to put themselves into the right environment.
“You can’t go into this competition every five years and expect to make an impact,” he said after our second Real Madrid loss. (Keep Up)
“The first challenge for us is to become a Champions League football club. That means qualifying every year. With what we have gone through this year and the way we have tested ourselves, there is no doubt that, should we qualify again, this group of players will be much better for the experience.”
The Aussie may have departed since those comments but they still ring true for the players — the majority of whom now have Champions League games under their belt.
Kyogo Furuhashi, Liel Abada, Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Greg Taylor, Matt O’Riley and more all played in the group stage for the first time last year. They will have learned some harsh lessons.
With all of that, some fresh blood, and Brendan Rodgers now in the hot seat, there is a fighting chance for Celtic in this group.