Celtic were intelligently set up against Benfica and played with a focus. Neil Lennon, who passed his first test as a Champions League manager, will know his side needs more to progress from Group A but, to the sober mind, that eventuality must represent an ambition rather than an expectation.
It must be remembered that Martin O'Neill never took his Celtic side into the knockout stages, though Gordon Strachan did so twice in 2006 and 2007. Lennon, though, has avoided the awful fate that awaited Strachan in Brastislava in the latter's Champions League debut as a manager but the Northern Irishman may find that replicating Strachan's achievement by progressing to the business end of the competition is beyond him and his team.
There is no wilful pessimism in this assertion, merely an appreciation of the odds that are further stacked against Celtic after two points dropped at home. Most realists, too, would argue that it would be an achievement if Celtic finished third in a group also containing Spartak Moscow and Barcelona.
Celtic did much right against Benfica. Lennon set out his team ambitiously and cleverly. Miku was designated to play up front in a role routinely described as "lone striker" but the UEFA computer tracking device of the game shows that the Venezuelan was regularly playing in a front three when Celtic were in possession.
The Celtic manager also addressed concerns about his central defence by employing Victor Wanyama and Scott Brown as cover when possession was lost. Wanyama had to accept a booking when caught out by a Benfica break but this "double-lock" ploy was successful, with Mikael Lustig, who was withdrawn because of injury, declaring that it was crucial to the considerable achievement of a clean sheet.
Thomas Rogne, who later confirmed talks on a new deal were continuing and that he wants to stay at Celtic Park, came on to show he is the best central defender at the club with an excellent block on a Rodrigo shot.
It is possible to state at times that Lennon has made the wrong call – many would argue he took off the wrong centre-back in the Scottish Communities League Cup final defeat by Kilmarnock, for example – but he is an intense thinker on the game and is not afraid to set up his team in an unpredictable style. "I was enchanted by their tactics; they surprised me," said Jorge Jesus, the Benfica coach.
Indeed, the shock of finding Charlie Mulgrew as a wide left player in an advanced position and the drifting of Kris Commons could have produced a goal in the frantic opening before Benfica adjusted to the unexpected. Celtic, too, enjoyed the greater share of possession, 53% to 47%. They were not disgraced in any area of the park though Emilio Izaguirre's slump in form has the trajectory of a ski slope.
Lennon's problem is that, when teams sit in, he has restricted sources of creativity. In midfield, Brown is a much-improved player but he is not a goalscorer and lacks a regular, killer pass. Wanyama will score from setpieces but his substantial future is surely as a holding midfielder.
Lennon, then, needs penetration from wide and brilliance from a striker. He was denied both for almost all of Wednesday night's match. The most damning statistic is three attempts from Celtic on target and a collective inability to recall when Artur had to make an outstanding save.
Izaguirre, once a potent weapon, never threatened out wide and Adam Matthews was forgiveably preoccupied with negating the considerable presence of Nicolas Gaitan. Mulgrew was persistent and Commons was the likeliest lad, but James Forrest was subdued by the Benfica defence.
The Benfica coach assessed him thus: "Their best player for me without a doubt was James Forrest." This verdict was more about what the 21-year-old can do rather than what he did on Wednesday night.
He is, though, Celtic's best hope in opening up a defence as pace and directness can be effective even in the rarefied heights of the Champions League. The Scotland internationalist may be stymied by close marking at Celtic Park but he offers a hope for Lennon on away trips.
It is likely that the Celtic manager will take a properly cautious approach to trips to Moscow, Barcelona and Lisbon but he will be thinking even now that he has a side that should be able to counter-attack at pace and with some intelligence.
The much-maligned Georgios Samaras scored a wonderful counter-attacking goal for Greece in the European Championships and has been a threat on occasion for his club at the highest level. His return, and that of the safe and sure Joe Ledley, gives Lennon options for away matches. He will use them.
The key, though, to obtaining any success in the Champions League will be the form of the strikers. Gary Hooper has quick feet and a similar footballing brain and needs to add decisive finishing when offered the solitary chance in Moscow or Lisbon.
The most intriguing factor may be Miku. The Venezuelan striker has played two matches without making a significant impression. Yet Celtic players and staff, including Forrest post-match, have talked in glowing terms about the forward's movement, touch and finishing in training.
The 27-year-old, on loan from Getafe, has scored two goals against Real Madrid in a match at the Bernabeu. Similar feats against Barcelona, Spartak Moscow and Benfica would have a crucial bearing on Celtic's Champions League progress.
However, this is all gravy with the Champions League being an adventure. The bread and butter continues with Dundee at Celtic Park tomorrow in a competition that Celtic are expected to win to ensure that the Champions League becomes a regular experience rather than an intriguing novelty.
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