By Micil Glennon at Celtic Park
Celtic failed to emulate their Champions League heroics of last season falling to a 1-0 defeat to Barcelona at Celtic Park.
Neil Lennon’s side were resilient for an hour but a red card for Scott Brown made their task practically impossible and Cesc Fabregas headed home the winner for the Spanish champions after 76 minutes.
Ajax’s draw with AC Milan provided some solace for the Scottish outfit but they lie on the bottom of Group H after two games and face an uphill battle to reach the last 16 for the second year running.
Lennon stuck largely with the side that beat Kilmarnock 5-2 on Saturday with Mikael Lustig coming in and striker Teemu Pukki dropping to the bench in a reshuffled formation.
Seven of the 11 also started the memorable 2-1 win in last season’s group stage, while, notably, goal scorers Victor Wanyama (sold to Southampton) and Tony Watt (on loan at Belgian side Lierse) were missing.
However, captain Brown was an addition, alongside recalled Republic of Ireland international Anthony Stokes.
Barcelona, too, were without their goal scorer from that night as four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi missed out with a thigh strain.
Coach Gerardo Martino made two changes from the side that accounted for Almeria at the weekend to maintain their 100 per cent start to La Liga; Xavi and €57 million summer signing Neymar coming in.
As expected, the visitors dominated the early possession, with Celtic pinned back in their own half for the first four minutes.
But when Stokes found Georgios Samaras with a through ball on five minutes, Victor Valdes was the first goalkeeper to see action, pushing the Greek’s effort out for a corner.
Encouraged, Brown, Lustig and Stokes combined to set up Kris Commons, who saw his shot blocked on the edge of the area.
Samaras was causing the Barca defence problems with his direct running and he won a free off Dani Alves in a promising position, but it came to nothing as French referee Stephane Lannoy blew for a push in the box.
For all of Barcelona's intricate passing, they had nothing to show for it, with Neymar and Iniesta both shooting wide of Fraser Forster’s goal from distance. Adriano was also off target when set clear by the Brazilian winger.
Almost always chasing, the Hoops were smart when they did prise the ball from the Catalans, looking for the outlet of Samaras to relieve some pressure, a tactic that worked for the most part.
Lustig and Adam Matthews also made promising forays on the right-hand side in the Barca half but hesitancy at vital times, with forwards in the box, saw the attacks come to nought.
Five minutes before the break Forster went full length and was glad to see Neymar’s delicate flick fly past his left-hand post.
Lustig and Neymar were enjoying their own mini battle on the left wing and the Swedish full-back saw yellow for a late but necessary challenge just outside the box.
From the free kick Xavi tried his luck from a tight angle but Forster managed to scramble it out for a corner.
Before the game Lennon asked for big performances from Brown and Samaras and his wish was granted as the sides went in level at the break.
A similar pattern emerged at the start of the second half with the Bhoys feeding off scraps and Brown fired wide after Barcelona failed to clear their lines.
Fabregas, playing just in front of the midfield, then went on the book for a sliding tackle, deemed dangerous, on Stokes.
With the home faithful in full voice, Samaras and Commons combined but Pique headed clear.
The Scottish champions task became even more difficult when Brown was shown a red card for a petulant flick on Neymar just before the hour mark.
The midfielder had tracked the 21-year-old for 50 yards before fouling him and then inexcusably kicking out at the grounded ex-Santos man.
With extra running required, Lennon brought on Beram Kayal and James Forrest for Lustig and Stokes to try and prevent a breakthrough.
And the goal almost came at the other end when Valdes did superbly to stop Forrest’s close-range half volley and then Charlie Mulgrew headed the resulting corner wide.
However, the inevitable goal eventually came 15 minutes from time. Just on as a replacement for Pedro, Sanchez clipped a ball back from the by-line for an unmarked Fabregas to head past Forster from six yards.
The keeper then denied Neymar and Sanchez with a stunning double save in the 87th minute and then Neymar again in injury time but the damage had been done and Celtic, for all their effort, once again had nothing to show.
Celtic: Forster; Lustig (Forrest 69), Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre, Matthews, Brown, Mulgrew, Samaras, Commons (Pukki 86), Stokes (Kayal 69).
Subs not used: Zaluska, Biton, Balde, Rogic.
Barcelona: Valdés, Alves, Bartra, Piqué, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta (Song 89), Neymar, Fabregas (Tello 78), Pedro (Sanchez 74).
Subs not used: Pinto, Montoya, dos Santos, Roberto.