ANGE POSTECOGLOU dared to dream.
But for Celtic this was a Champions League dose of reality.
The Parkhead boss tonight got the fearless performance he wanted from his players.
But Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid showed why they’re reigning champions of this competition.
The La Liga giants lifted the trophy in Paris back in May and their devastating second-half performance suggested they’re in no mood to let it go.
Celtic, though, can hold their heads high.
On another night they could have been 3-0 up themselves as they gave this tie everything they had and then some.
But in the end it was goals from Vinicius Jr, Luka Modric and Eden Hazard that decided this Group F opener.
What a game it was. What an effort from Celtic.
Madrid’s megastars have been there, seen it and done it all before in the biggest and best stadiums in world football.
Guys at their level don’t get spooked easily.
Yet even these Galacticos must have felt there was something special in the air last night.
The atmosphere really was incredible.
Celtic were shooting towards the Lisbon Lions Stand in the first half and there wasn’t a single supporter in the lower tier sitting down.
They’d paid a small fortune for their seats but everyone stood, virtually kicking every ball.
The fans were all hyped up and almost bursting with adrenaline coursing through their veins – just like the players on the park.
Postecoglou promised he’d stick to his principles and football philosophy, and he didn’t just.
From kick-off Celtic went for it.
And incredibly it’s no exaggeration to say they could have gone 3-0 up before they’d even broken sweat.
Liel Abada scored twice against Rangers at the weekend and he’ll be kicking himself he didn’t have as many inside the first 13 minutes.
He was unlucky with his first effort inside the first 20 SECONDS when Madrid’s Eder Militao made an incredible block to divert the Israeli’s shot off target.
It would be unfair to say he had to score.
But Abada really should have done better with his next chance.
Jota played an unbelievable ball through to the winger who darted in off the right touchline to put himself one-on-one with Thibaut Courtios.
The giant Madrid No1 stood tall and made himself as imposing as he possibly could.
But even so, Abada made it easy for the big goalkeeper with a weak shot struck straight at him.
It was like he was thinking too much about the stage he was on and the team he was playing against in those vital seconds as he ran through.
Madrid could have been rattled by those big moments but they kept passing and moving with the class they’re known for.
Celtic got going, though. And keep creating opportunities.
Skipper Callum McGregor spoke before the draw was made about how he was desperate to face Madrid.
With 21 minutes on the clock he rattled a shot which was inches away from finding the back of the net.
Courtois could only stand and watch as the ball smacked his post.
You had got to wonder there and then if Celtic would live to regret all these near misses. They really couldn’t have dreamed of having chances as good as they thought ahead of this fixture.
Madrid were also dealt a blow midway through the first half when skipper Karim Benzema limped off with a thigh injury.
But it would be stretching it to say Madrid were significantly weakened by his exit when his replacement stepped onto the pitch. Hazard is an understudy for no-one.
It was after his introduction that Madrid looked threatening in the first half.
In 42 minutes the ex-Chelsea star played a terrific through ball for Vinicius Jr, who scarpered through with only Joe Hart to beat.
It felt like the moment all of Celtic’s hard work would be undone in one sickening moment before the break.
Yet Hart steadied himself as the Brazil international failed to beat him.
It would have been a travesty had Madrid gone 1-0 ahead at the break.
But everyone knew the La Liga giants were certain to raise their game in the second half.
They had too much quality and talent on the pitch to allow this game to pass them by.
Postecoglou tried to mix things up and took off Abada at the interval and replaced him with Daizen Maeda.
The Japanese winger was next to come close to scoring just seconds after the restart.
But soon it started to unravel for Celtic as they conceded two goals in the blink of an eye.
In 56 minutes Madrid scored on the break when Hazard combined with Federico Valverde on the right before the ball was played across the goal for Vinicius Jr.
His finish past Hart was as cool as you like.
Within another four minutes it was 2-0, this time Modric showing the word panic just isn’t in his vocabulary.
The little Croatian silenced Scotland fans at the Euros with the outside of his right foot and here he did it again with another sensational finish.
Postecoglou waited before he made more changes but soon came a triple switch which saw Kyogo Furuhashi, Aaron Mooy and David Turnbull thrown on.
But in 76 minutes Madrid added a third.
Hazard was set up by Dani Carvajal inside the six-yard box with a chance he just couldn’t miss.
It was agonizing for Celtic’s supporters but they backed their team until the very end and saluted their efforts at the sound of the final whistle with Postecoglou’s name ringing around the stadium.
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