Celtic v Shakhtar Donetsk – Let’s prove that we belong in the Champions League

Celtic head into tonight’s penultimate game of this season’s Champions League adventure currently sitting on one point after 4 games and surely will be looking at tonight’s final home fixture against Shakhtar Donetsk as a must win game if they are to prove that they are progressing in terms of their ambitions in European football.

If we are honest our chances of even getting third, and with it the chance of playing Europa League football after Christmas, are relatively slim as it will mean getting a result against Real Madrid at the Bernabau and hoping Leipzig beat Shakhtar in the final round of games. I would say however that it’s not about Europa League qualification at this point but rather proving the point that we can compete at this level.

 Ange Postecoglou attends a press conference at Celtic Park in Glasgow on October 24, 2022, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League Group F football match against Shakhtar Donetsk. . (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Scottish football’s reputation in Europe has taken a battering this season, not that there was any great reputation there from recent history in the first place but you know what I mean. Hearts have been poor in the Europa Conference League and currently sit on 3 points after 4 games. Our city rivals have fared even worse. They are currently on track to have one of the worst ever Champions League campaigns in history. I wouldn’t be surprised if Napoli gave them a severe hiding tomorrow night similar to the one handed out by Liverpool recently.

Celtic however haven’t fared that much better, in fact Hearts actually have more points after four games than us and we have only a point more than an embarrassing theRangers side. To be honest however I feel that unlike our neighbours, we actually haven’t looked too bad during the campaign. One point after four games is obviously unacceptable but it’s been hugely frustrating more than disappointing.

I thought we were immense during the first hour or so against European Champions Real Madrid at Celtic Park and even though we lost that game I have to say I was extremely proud that we had played such good football against a team of that calibre. We certainly didn’t look out of place, even looking like the better footballing side during the first half.

In our next game we really should have put Shakhtar Donetsk to the sword. We had enough chances during that game to win multiple matches but didn’t take our chances and let a team we were dominating back into it. The start of my frustrations appeared that night and it really did feel like an opportunity lost. The two games against Leipzig both had a similar feeling and it really has been the story of our campaign so far. We haven’t been clinical enough.

Real Madrid’s Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois stop a ball shot by Celtic’s Japanese striker Daizen Maeda during the UEFA Champions League match between Celtic and Real Madrid, at the Celtic Park stadium on September 6, 2022.  (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

I would say we have matched up quite well against all the sides we have faced so far but the big difference, especially against Madrid and Leipzig is that they have taken their chances when they have been presented to them. Maybe this just shows our inexperience at this level and hopefully these players will learn a valuable lesson out of this European adventure and come back stronger in the years to follow. Certainly our manager thinks that this will be the case and I tend to agree with him.

It will certainly be disappointing if we fail to secure European football after Christmas but it looks inevitable at this point. More important is to put on a proper performance tonight. Shakhtar will be up for this one as they still have a realistic chance of making the knockout stages, which would be a fantastic achievement for a side who can’t even play their home matches in their own country due to the Russian invasion.

Ange Postecoglou coach of Celtic FC looks on during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic FC at The Marshall Jozef Pilsudski’s Municipal Stadium of Legia Warsaw on September 14, 2022 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)

Celtic however must face tonight’s opponents without an ounce of sympathy and be fully prepared to go to war themselves (in footballing terms obviously) to take all three points and prove that unlike our neighbours, this campaign will not be an embarrassment. I hear people say that we shouldn’t be worrying too much about these next two European matches as we have plenty of action on the domestic front to focus on but I feel like these two games are still huge.

The main reason I think this way is because this club must prove that it is progressing on the European front under Ange Postecoglou. Our recent history in Europe is quite frankly embarrassing if we are all honest and I feel like if we ended the campaign with one point from a group containing Leipzig and Shakhtar Donetsk that it would have to be regarded as a failure.

It’s also imperative that we once again make Celtic Park a place where teams fear to come. I’m sick of hearing opposition players and managers talking about how it’s such a nice place to visit. We aren’t a tourist attraction for Christ’s sake. We need to be giving teams a bloody nose when they come to our ground and make it somewhere that teams will go to thinking ‘I would take a point here’. Not so long ago it felt like no one could beat us at home as we beat the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and AC Milan.

Currently we are possibly one game away from gaining zero points out of nine at Parkhead. Totally unacceptable.

A win tonight will also be vitally important for this squads mentality. If we fail to claim all three points against a team that, lets be honest, most of us felt were the weakest side in the group, the players will surely be thinking maybe we aren’t good enough at this level. We have had that negative mentality fester amongst previous squads after terrible results especially in the qualifiers and we don’t want it seeping back in and effecting this current squad.

Many will look at tonight’s game as a game which doesn’t hold much importance. I however will be watching on with a feeling that this game holds a hell of a lot more significance than simply the three points on offer.

Let’s go out tonight and prove that we belong at this level.

Conall McGinty

About Author

Hailing from Cushendall in the North of Ireland my formative years were spent watching Celtic during our barren spell through the 90's which meant I have appreciated our recent trophy-laden spell even more. Favourite matches home and away I've attended has to be beating Man Utd 1-0 at Celtic Park and being with my 2 brothers watching us beat Lazio 2-1 in Rome. Best away day experience? Has to be Munich with friends from Coatbridge...what a few days!

Comments are closed.