That magical feeling of a big European win under the lights returned with interest last night in a pulsating 90+ minutes of action at Celtic Park.
There was just an extra edge to this match long before a ball was kicked. They say football and politics should not mix, but the vast differences in cultural and social beliefs of both sets of fans ensured the atmosphere stayed electric all night while the gladiators fought for three points on the field.
Celtic could not capitalise on a strong first-half performance, often failing at the final phase of attack. In typical Euro style we fell behind to a sucker-punch counter-attack goal and fine finish from Lazzari. 1-0 down at half-time, the question was could we rise again?
The match swung from end to end as Celtic looked to get back on level terms and Lazio tried to net a second. Fraser Forster saved at close range and the post came to our rescue in a breathless second-half.
When the equaliser came it was fitting – two of our stand-out performers this season combined as Edouard slipped the ball to Christie to fire over the keeper into the net.
With time running out and the prospect of a draw growing, the star man of the night delivered the wining goal to set the stadium rocking in wild celebration. Christie swung in a corner which was met perfectly by the head of the formidable figure of Christopher Jullien.
The drama continued for five more minutes in injury time, but by that point, I’m not going to lie, I was watching reactions on people’s faces instead of the action on the pitch. That to me is the beauty of football – you love the team but sometimes you just can’t watch.
In that moment when I was watching my feet, I heard that millisecond of silence as 60,000 people took a sharp intake of breath and then let out a cheer followed up by cries of “WHAT A SAVE”. The great wall had returned to ensure our night of celebration was not left in ruin.
An incredible night at Celtic Park capped off with a fantastic win.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
There is a certain time when football transcends sport and becomes something more. It becomes theatre; it becomes a real story, not a designed story by advertising executives or TV companies. It crackles naturally. This game was one of those occasions where the ending will be remembered for a long time but how we got to that ending will be long forgotten.
We will remember the moments that turned the story the good guys’ way. Odsonne Edouard’s assist for Ryan Christie’s equaliser when all was looking forlorn and lost. Christopher Jullien finding space and perfectly guiding it to the side of the net with a header he has been threatening to score for weeks. Fraser Forster, like us all, could have admired the ball dropping from a shanked clearance and the Lazio player striking it, so precise, and so sweet you could almost taste the sugar, only for the big man to be sweeter in the save.
We have now put ourselves in a great position for an encore of qualification from the group. This would be the perfect encore for the theatre we provide Europe.
Nights like last night don’t half put us through several emotions.
From feeling angry and defeated one minute to utter euphoria the next.
On a night where emotions before the game were at fever pitch, due to this being the glamour tie of the group for us and also due to the fact that both sets of fans are polar opposite politically, it all made for a pulsating atmosphere on the night.
Having gone 1-0 down from a Lazzari strike just before half-time, it would have been easy to come out the second-half feeling hard done by having played well for most part of the first-half.
But this Celtic side seem different from the one to previous seasons, big nights on the big stage can produce big results and this was to be no different.
Ryan Christie got the equaliser on the 67th minute after some good build-up play from Edouard in the box to find the Scot, who then passed it into the far corner of the net, away from the Lazio keeper. Game on.
Having survived a few scares late on with Lazio hitting the post and some good defensive work to keep the game level, we were all in for a gripping final few minutes.
Having won a comer in the last few minutes from a deflected Scott Brown shot, Paradise held its breath.
Christie whipped in a cross and big Jullien had all the time In the world to pick his spot for the winning goal and to send Celtic Park wild.
There was further drama to unfold, however, as Fraser Forster pulled off one of the best saves you’ll see in any game to deny Lazio a late, late equaliser from a volley near the edge of the box that looked every inch goal-bound.
The celebrations at the end of the game were special and puts us in a comfortable position for the return leg in Rome in a few weeks’ time.
Celtic Park truly is Paradise on nights like these, and hopefully we have more to come.
🍀 A CELTIC STATE OF MIND
⭐️ Man of the Match
🇮🇹 Celtic 2 Lazio 1
1️⃣ Christopher Jullien
2️⃣ Ryan Christie
3️⃣ Scott Brown