Even though Celtic got off to a bright and encouraging start in Glasgow in their Champions League debut, holders Real Madrid ultimately dominated them.
Celtic frightened Real in a frenzied first half by producing several chances, including a shot against the post from Callum McGregor, five years after their previous appearance at Europe’s top table.
However, the visitors came back after halftime and scored goals from Vinicius Junior, Luka Modric, and Eden Hazard to secure the victory.
After defeating RB Leipzig, Carlo Ancelotti’s team—which lost Karim Benzema to injury in the first half—joined Shakhtar Donetsk at the top of Group F.
Next Wednesday, when Celtic play the Ukrainian team in their second group match in Warsaw, they hope to rebound from their disappointing performance against the European football aristocracy.
Response and what occurred
However, the Scottish champions left a positive impression on the world’s largest stage, so it was not a depressing night at a raucous Celtic Park.
Despite Real Madrid’s superiority, Ange Postecoglou promised his squad would stick to their front-foot approach, and it was evident right from the start as they forced Thibaut Courtois to hand the ball out after 12 seconds. The fans erupted in approval as Liel Abada swung barely wide from the throw-in.
The Israeli winger was released in front of the defense following a superb ball from Jota, so it wasn’t just a one-off, but his hurried effort fell right into Courtois’ hands.
There was a sense of dread that Celtic’s lost chances would haunt them when McGregor rattled the post from the outside of the box and halftime replacement Daizen Maeda squandered a glorious opportunity from six yards.
The power of Modric and Tony Kroos, five-time European winners, increased almost inexorably, and Real did penalize Celtic’s carelessness in a masterfully efficient four minutes.
Federico Valverde’s cross was planted in the bottom corner by Vinicius after a smooth sequence that began at Courtois’ feet and ended with Hazard setting up Modric to stroke the ball home at the second attempt.
Real controlled the ball more easily as Celtic was fatigued from their exertions in the first half, and they put together an incredible 33-pass play that ended with Kroos finding Dani Carvajal, who then crossed the ball for Hazard to score Real’s third.
The 14-time kings of Europe, whose quality shined through in the second half, ultimately overpowered Celtic, who fought to the bitter end and continued to pose a threat in bursts.
Luka Modric won the game’s MVP award.
Before Modric puts on a display, Celdemonstrates his mettle—analysis
The Celtic supporters were chanting their manager’s name repeatedly with two minutes remaining in the game and their team down 3-0. It demonstrates how highly regarded Postecoglou is due to the brand of play he introduced, which was evident in the first half.
Giorgos Giakoumakis was tireless up attack, the midfield trio of McGregor, Reo Hatate, and Matt O’Riley buzzed around, and center-backs Moritz Jenz and Cameron Carter-Vickers fiercely defended.
Things may have gone differently if Abada had displayed his typical ruthlessness. As things stood, Kroos and Modric carried out their routines with the excellent assistance of young Frenchman Aurelien Tchouameni.
While Modric just glided around the Celtic Park field, brushing in the second goal with the outside of his boot, Kroos made 136 passes on his own and provided a brilliant assist for the third goal, encapsulating his talent.
The young Croatian dominated Scotland at Euro 2020 and scored a stunning goal the last time he was in Glasgow. Even though he was 37, it was still fun to watch him play because he loves it here.
By the end, Celtic was sort of chasing shadows, but with RB Leipzig and Shakhtar Donetsk on the horizon, they can be encouraged that their approach might be problematic against the best.
In the Scottish Premiership, Celtic will host Livingston on Saturday at 15:00 BST before taking on Shakhtar in Warsaw on Wednesday (17:45). On the weekend before hosting Leipzig, Madrid plays Mallorca.