On a memorable Wednesday night in Glasgow, Celtic claimed a place in the Champions League knockout stages courtesy of a 2-1 victory over Spartak Moscow at Celtic Park.
Kris Commons’s late penalty saw Celtic just do enough to complete their end of the bargain, while Benfica’s failure to beat Barcelona in the Camp Nou was sufficient for Neil Lennon’s men to finish second in Group G.
For a long time it appeared that the Hoops would falter with qualification within their grasp as the out of form Russian side equalized Gary Hooper’s strike through Ari before half time. But Commons’ spot kick means that Celtic will get to test themselves against one of Europe’s elite over two legs in the next round.
Having amassed 10 points, including a victory over Barcelona last month, it would be difficult to suggest that the Scottish champions do not warrant their place.
Lennon must have hoped that his side would give him a less stressful evening than it eventually proved as Hooper struck in the 21st minute. Georgios Samaras tried to find his striking partner with a searching ball forward that Spartak defender Juan Insaurralde should have cleared comfortably but missed his kick allowing Hooper to run onto it and strike low first time past Sergey Pesjakov from the edge of the box.
It was not to be a comfortable night for anyone involved with Celtic, though, and Spartak, on a run of three straight defeats, struck back six minutes before half time. The ball was moved from left to right and Emmanuel Emenike found Ari down the right of the box, with the Brazilian forward producing a sumptuous chip from the angle over Fraser Forster and past the despairing attempted to clearance by the retreating Kelvin Wilson.
The scores remained level until Celtic were awarded a debatable penalty with just under 10 minutes remaining. Going nowhere near the byline, Samaras tumbled enthusiastically under the clumsy challenge of Marek Suchy. It was certainly soft, but few Celtic fans will care about that as they celebrate long into the evening courtesy of Commons’ composure to smash the ball high down the middle and into the net.