After the euphoria of a breath-taking, logic-defying Champions League encounter between Celtic and Manchester City had started to fade, there came a search for answers.
How, exactly, had a Parkhead squad that had cost a total of £19million been able to go toe-to-toe so impressively with the pick of a galaxy of Etihad stars that cost not far shy of half a billion to assemble?
How could the stock of the Scottish champions, whose first match in Group C had ended in a club European record 7-0 filleting in Barcelona, have risen so spectacularly a fortnight later against Pep Guardiola’s big City traders?
Moussa Dembele scored two in Celtic 3-3 Champions League draw with Manchester City
The Manchester City players outnumbered Celtic when it came to their transfer value
Dembele believes Celtic Park and the club’s fans played a vital part in their draw
Where were the signs that a team which had swatted aside all 10 of its previous opponents this season with ease would see their bid for an English record 11th straight win derailed in Glasgow?
But that’s exactly what occurred under the lights in the east end on Wednesday night as Celtic’s starting line-up, purchased for £11.6m — roughly the cost of £49m Raheem Sterling’s right leg — earned a precious Champions League point in a deserved 3-3 draw.
For star striker Moussa Dembele, the answer lay with the occasionally shaking foundations and the deafening din of the grand old stadium that had just witnessed another European night to remember. Celtic Park, the two-goal hero insisted, is simply an arena where sorcery occurs and where opposition players get seriously spooked.
Dembele has scored 12 goals in his last eight home matches for Celtic at Parkhead
‘That’s the magic of Paradise,’ said the bargain £500,000 summer signing from Fulham with a grin.
‘I know it won’t be easy for any team to come here. It’s such a special place. Teams feel it straight away when they come out on to the pitch.
‘The supporters are so important for us. They get behind us for the entire game. It makes you feel like you can do anything you want to do on the pitch.
‘We also have players of good quality so it’s up to us. I am very happy to play here every week.’
Just three home group losses since the inception of the Champions League 24 years ago underlines how much of a fortress Celtic Park has been in European football’s premiere club competition.
Singer Rod Stewart is a regular attendee in the directors box for Celtic’s home matches
But the arena has clearly also had a powerful effect on Dembele. The 20-year-old has now scored 12 goals in his last eight games at Parkhead. He has eight goals in his last four, including the first Old Firm league hat-trick against Rangers in 50 years.
In fact, the Frenchman is yet to score a Celtic goal away from the Glasgow ground, his best chance being a squandered penalty at 1-0 in that 7-0 Nou Camp rout. With his double against City, though, Dembele feels both he and Celtic proved themselves on the big stage after their Catalan calamity.
‘After that game against Barcelona, I said that when it comes to penalties, sometimes you miss and sometimes you score,’ he shrugged.
‘After I missed, I just tried to forget about it and move on to the next game. And that’s what I have done.
Dembele has clearly taken to his new surroundings after joining Celtic in the summer
‘Of course, we got a bit of pride back by drawing with Manchester City. After the Nou Camp, we were very disappointed.
‘We wanted to prove that we are a good team and that we can cause problems for other good teams in this competition. I think we did that on Wednesday against City.
‘We were happy to get a result against a team who had been doing so well this season.
‘We showed great desire and mental strength and it was a really positive night for this football club.
‘I actually think we deserved more from the game than a point but we showed great resilience at the end.
‘On a personal level, when I first came to Celtic one of my goals was to get the club back in the Champions League. This is where we belong. On Wednesday, I scored two goals and hopefully showed what I am all about.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers applauds the fans at the end of Wednesday night’s game
‘Big games make big players. When you play in the big games you have to produce your best. Hopefully I did that against Manchester City.’
Dembele’s first goal came off his chest when he diverted Erik Sviatchenko’s header into Claudio Bravo’s net from an offside position after just three minutes. His second after the break was a mixture of audacity and a touch of good fortune, his unorthodox overhead kick finding the corner of the net.
To the former Paris Saint-German youth player, both strikes were of equal beauty.
‘My second goal was a good goal,’ he said. ‘But, at the end of the day, the ball ended up in the back of the net and that’s the most important thing. I don’ t care if it’s an overhead kick or a tap in. They are all good goals.
‘My own view as a striker is that a goal is a goal. I’ll take any goal, whether it’s against Kilmarnock or Manchester City. You always want to score goals so I was happy to get two. Hopefully I can benefit from this and keep learning.’
After the Scottish champions got off the mark with their first point of the Champions League, Dembele is hungry for more. Next up is the visit of Borussia Monchengladback to Celtic Park on Wednesday, October 19 before a return against the Germans on November 1.
Dembele believes Celtic can qualify from a group including both City and Barcelona
When Group C was drawn, the two lesser lights were expected to scrap it out behind City and Barcelona for third and a consolation place in the Europa League. But Dembele maintains second place is not an impossible dream in this Group of Death.
‘Never mind talking about the Europa League — we are still in the Champions League,’ he said.
‘I don’t like to speak too much before games. We work hard in training and will prepare and what will happen will happen.
‘But this was a vital point for us against Manchester City. All points are important if we want to go on to where we want to be.
‘We have to take it game by game and do our best and we will see where that takes us.’
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