MOUSSA Dembele last night bemoaned the missed chances which cost Celtic in the Champions League this season and committed himself 100% to the cause of staying at the club to spearhead their challenge next time around.
The Frenchman, still only 20, was kicking himself for not getting enough pace on his header from a James Forrest cross early in the second half, which could have levelled matters at 1-1 on the night.
Instead, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen made a diving save and play promptly swept up the other end to where Emilio Izaguirre manhandled Luis Suarez in the box and Lionel Messi swept in the clinching penalty.
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Coupled with Borussia Moenchengladbach's draw against Manchester City, the result puts an end of Celtic's hopes of playing European football of any form beyond Christmas. Instead, the Scottish Champions will travel to Manchester for the group's final match day with only pride and a Uefa win bonus on the line but Dembele feels that the competition has already provided an enviable grounding to this team and is hopeful that they can kick on next season.
He has been linked with a money-spinning move to Arsenal, Paris St Germain or one of the other big clubs on the continent, but Dembele said last night that he wasn't planning to go anywhere. It is the kind of news which will hearten most Celtic fan.
"That is what everyone is saying but I haven’t said that," said Dembele, picked up for a paltry £400,000 from Fulham last summer. "For me, I am here until the end of my contract and for many years. It is not something I think about. I don’t listen to those stories.
"I want to keep playing in the Champions League and keep playing in the Champions League for Celtic first," added the French Under-21 international. "Because I think I will stay here 100 per cent. I want to keep improving and keep developing as a player."
There was much to admire in a Celtic performance which was night and day to the 7-0 defeat at the Camp Nou in September, but Dembele feels much pride had been won back long before then, not least in a 3-3 draw against Manchester City and a 1-1 draw against the Germans.
"It was a better game than the away one," said Dembele. "We had some chances and couldn't put them away. I had a chance and I couldn't score it. I just tried to put the ball where it came from. It wasn't easy, I had to generate a lot of pace. But that is the way it is. Sometimes you miss, sometimes you score. You just have to keep your head up.
"I think we won our reputation back before this game, we have done well this season in terms of the league and the cups," the Frenchman added. "It is just small details. And small details are about experience. We have learned from these games. We will try to win everything this season then come back stronger next season.
"For sure, coming here this year has been good for me, but not just me, we have a young squad, a young team and this year we have taken a lot of experience from playing against the best teams in the world. Hopefully we can come back strong next season. When you are on the pitch you can't think about the big picture, the game is 90 minutes and you don't know what will happen until the end. But at times I thought we were stronger than them."
Nir Bitton said Celtic could have taken more from the game, and refused to stress Dembele's missed headed chance as the turning point. Celtic go directly into the League Cup final against Aberdeen on Sunday at Hampden and the Israeli is backing the Frenchman to score the goals which deliver this season's first piece of silverware.
“We showed that we have improved from the last meeting with them and I think we deserved more from the game," said the Israeli midfielder. “But when you play Barcelona and you make sloppy mistakes then you pay for it and that’s what happened to us. Even so, the guys played an amazing game and deserve a lot of credit.
“I don’t believe that Moussa’s opportunity was the turning point," he added. "There were many chances throughout the evening and, in the first half, Craig Gordon’s saves kept us in it. Sometimes you miss and sometimes you score. Moussa is a top striker and a top goalscorer and he was unlucky. No-one is blaming him – of course not. You saw Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez miss chances tonight and that’s football. I’m sure that he will score against Aberdeen on Sunday for us.”