Barcelona’s human brilliance against Milan rouses the soul

Barcelona’s heroic 4-0 dismantling of AC Milan will go down in their annals and indeed, the annals of the great matches of European football, as a moment when a great team reaffirmed why it deserves its place at the head of football’s pantheon. The sumptuous football has rightly been acclaimed before, and will be acclaimed again, but what was so uplifting about this particular victory was the way it stemmed from the other, human qualities of a magnificent set of individuals. From the outset, they made a mockery of their many admirers’ pessimism by tearing into Milan with a hunger and passion that cast them and their magical play in a glowing halo in those first thirty minutes. Lionel Messi’s ethereal chip-shot within the first five minutes of the match, recalling a similar goal by Ronaldinho for Barca against Chelsea in the same tournament, was summoned up by his rare genius yet also by his magnificent determination to seize his moment and not see his glittering team cast into darkness; Xavi ran through injury and pain for ninety minutes because he possesses that same innate drive that lifts men to greatness and nothing typified his spirit more than the sliding tackle, followed by the kick of the ball he made from his prone position on the floor in the second half – when the pressure was at its height – to disarm Milan’s attack.

Indeed it was the hovering threat of an away goal that severely tested the nerves of Barcelona and their 90,000 magnificent fans – resplendently heralding their intentions to back up a great team with great support through their banner “Som Un Equipo” (“we are a team) – but which also cast them in the sort of heroic light we rarely get to appreciate. Dominating teams so easily, almost in a somnambulant fashion, has led some neutrals to the erroneous conclusion that their play is either monotonous or less worthy of praise. Last night Barcelona walked a tightrope from first minute to the last, and the fact that they chose to answer the daunting challenge of overturning a 0-2 lead with a style of play as beautiful as it was vulnerable, and perhaps even ill-suited to the task, brilliantly illuminated the heroic aspect of their endeavour. It is under extreme stress that the true face of a man’s character is revealed, and Barcelona demonstrated a rousing faith in their beautifully fragile style of play at a time when it was questioned most, in the face of an increasingly nerve-wracked ninety minutes, that will burnish their legend for decades to come.

All the wishes that a neutral harbours in following one of the great sports teams in history, all the inspiration they might wish to gain from watching them summon up their boundless strength and character to produce their magical best to overturn a formidable lead in historic and unreal fashion – in short, many of the dreams one hopes to find fulfilled by watching sport and then to carry the spirit of into life were realised by this fantastic Barcelona team on Tuesday’s magical night at the Camp Nou. Even if they do not go on to win the tournament, they have rendered football and the watching world another invaluable service whilst creating a night that will live long in the memories of all lucky enough to see it.

Celtic’s passion reverberates around Europe as they revel in Glasgow rain on big night

From first minute to last, and probably well before and after kick-off, Celtic’s fans and stadium were a sight to behold and chorus to listen to in the 2-1 defeat of Barcelona on Wednesday. Recalling the resplendent way in which they decorated themselves with the green-and-white colours of their crest, and the soaring volume with which they sang throughout a cold Glasgow night flashing with rain, brings goosebumps to the skin now just as it brought a smile to the face then. Here was a crowd that appreciated the convergence of Celtic’s 125th-year anniversary with the arrival of Barcelona’s majestic team of artists, and willed their team on to rise to the occasion with the same magnificence as they were doing. Here was a crowd, in short, who love the game with a passion and positivity that radiates even through the television screen and left a notable impression on Barcelona. Xavi and Pique’s fulsome, awestruck tributes to the Celtic crowd were perhaps made in the rueful acknowledgement that the Nou Camp never quite gets up to salute its players and the game in the same ravishing way. Would that a deserving team like Barcelona could experience the joy of playing a team like Celtic before supporters like those at Celtic Park every week. The wonder of British football’s culture was communicated to them loud and clear, and Celtic’s contribution on Wednesday night served to enhance the Champions League in an unforgettable way. Well done Celtic, well done Scotland, and here’s to another 125 years of raw passion and moments like Wednesday night that will live long in the memory.