Celtic kept awake with a Neymar...

THE pain in Spain falls mainly on the Hoops … especially when a special talent like Neymar is cutting you apart.

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Georgios Samaras heads home Celtic's consolation goal
Georgios Samaras heads home Celtic's consolation goal

After 14 attempts, Celtic are still trying to win on Spanish soil.

The latest missed opportunity saw Neil Lennon's Bhoys crash and burn 6-1 against blistering Barcelona in the Nou Camp, equalling their previous worst-ever defeat in Europe, 5-0 against Artmedia Bratislava in 2005.

Barca were in no mood to go easy on a side already condemned to bottom spot in Group H.

Celtic were left with a very bloody nose and severely-bruised confidence as their 2013-14 European sojourn was officially marked closed.

Now they must regroup and focus on retaining their league championship to book their spot in the qualifiers again next July.

Unfortunately, the intervening seven months will give them plenty of time to mull over what they achieved - and failed to achieve - in the campaign just ended.

The harsh statistics show they took only one positive result from the six matches played in Group H.

The 2-1 home victory over Ajax on matchday three gave them their only points, and they finished with the lowest tally in the club's eight attempts to compete in the group stage.

It was seven short of last season, when Lennon's side hugely over-achieved to march through with Barcelona to the last 16.

More worryingly, before Georgios Samaras finally came alive to head past Pinto two minutes from time last night, Celtic had only managed to score in that aforementioned home game against the Dutch.

The four blanks in the group were the real reason they finished bottom, though this lack of firepower was not what left them a poor second best last night. That was Barca's brilliance.

The sobering fact is, in the year which began with the last 16 matches against Juventus, Celtic failed to find the net in eight of the 14 ties they played.

Closer analysis shows that the problem is most acute when they move away from Parkhead.

For a side which, post-Moscow last year, appeared to have cured its travel sickness, that's a serious reversal of fortune and form.

Mindful of this, Lennon did try something different last night. Perhaps, on reflection, he now wishes he had not.

His decision to leave Charlie Mulgrew and Kris Commons on the bench in the Nou Camp was the first big surprise for the fans who had followed their club to Spain, and for the thousands more huddled around their TV sets back home.

The pair have been instrumental in helping Celtic regain lost ground in Europe in recent times.

But Lennon opted to keep them in reserve, along with Anthony Stokes, who broke his eight-game goal drought in the rout of Motherwell on Friday and who was desperate to finally prove he could transfer that finishing form to this exalted level.

The misfiring Teemu Pukki was, instead, given his big chance and a huge vote of confidence by Lennon.

He only lasted until half-time when replaced by Mulgrew.

Pukki had been played as the lone striker with Scott Brown - booked again - returning from his three-game suspension in an advanced position trying to support the frontman.

With Derk Boerrigter and Nir Biton starting in midfield, and Virgil van Dijk in his usual place at the back, it was the biggest representation of summer signings to start any big game this season.

Perhaps it was Lennon's way of discovering if the new Bhoys have got what it takes to help play a big part in taking this side forward.

The reality is that, on this showing, only Van Dijk gave any real hope for the future.

Lennon also pitched Adam Matthews straight back in for his first game since breaking a collar bone on October 5, the Welshman drafted in at left-back for the banned Emilio Izaguirre, but looking in need of the outing.

With Barca able to replace the injured Lionel Messi through the middle with Neymar, and the suspended Cesc Fabregas with Alexis Sanchez, the real gulf between the haves and have nots in Europe was clearly illustrated.

But, games are not won on financial clout alone, as the Hoops have shown numerous times. This one, however, was won on quality - particularly in the forward areas. Any pressure which Barca and their boss, Tata Martino, may have been feeling after recent defeats was defused courtesy of Gerard Pique's opening goal after just seven minutes.

The defender had stayed up after a corner conceded as Van Dijk had made the second of two important blocks.

And, when Efe Ambrose lost the ball on the edge of his own area, Alexis got the chance to shoot.

His effort was saved by Fraser "The Wall" Forster, but the ball ran to Pique and he made no mistake from close range.

Had Ambrose not blocked another point-blank effort by Pique midway through the half, it could have been much worse for the Hoops.

However, five minutes before the break, it was Neymar who cut Celtic open for the second.

The Brazilian got a yard on Ambrose in the area to find Pedro Rodriquez with a pass, which he had no difficulty converting from seven yards out as he stole in front of Mikael Lustig.

Seconds before the respite of the interval, Neymar was set up by Martin Montoya for a simple tap-in to make it 3-0 as the Celtic rearguard was torn asunder with guile and technique.

The runs from deep by Neymar and the threat from wide brought by Pedro and Alexis gave Celtic huge and varied problems which they could not fathom.

Too often possession was surrendered, never a good idea against Barcelona.

Of course, Celtic have done well under such testing circumstances before.

But, on this occasion, they lacked the required solidity at the back and any real threat on the break, and paid the price.

Neymar was the man who buried them, completing his hat-trick early in the second half.

He made it 4-0 after wonderful one-touch passing with Xavi, and then did it himself for Barca's fifth before an hour had elapsed, dancing past Ambrose before firing in off Matthews on the line.

When Cristian Tello saw his shot deflected past Forster by Van Dijk's boot, Celtic's miserable night was complete. Samaras' headed consolation from a Mulgrew free-kick was tokenism in its rawest form.

The hammering merely delivered the Last Rites on Celtic's European season which, in truth, had died some weeks earlier.

On the gravestone it should read: That really hurt.


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