This commercial significance cannot be ignored but the tournament has an enduring appeal for romantics because it is the place, rather, where reputations can be made.
The wait for Neil Lennon to make his Champions League debut as a manager has been relatively short but he approached it last night with a barely repressed enthusiasm, mixed surely with an element of anxiety.
This is the highest level of club football and this altitude can produce dramatic collapses. Celtic survived last night but they never fully prospered because this a stage where the telling word is always spoken by an actor of the highest class.
Celtic did not have the hero though they had the workers, the roaring crowd and an ambitious plan.
Lennon approached the match with considerable thought and some adventure. The fluid set-up of Celtic made it look as if the manager had chosen a 4-3-3 that morphed into a 4-2-3-1 when possession was lost. The only observation that could be made with any certainty was that Celtic were employing a back four with Mikael Lustig accompanying Kelvin Wilson in the centre, at least until the 62nd minute when he was replaced by Thomas Rogne, and with Charlie Mulgrew pushed wide left into midfield.
The other immediate impression was of a Celtic team energised by a support who welcomed the return of the Champions League with the enthusiasm of the punter greeting his sixth number in the lottery draw.
The Celtic players galloped towards the challenge with the passion whetted by the realisation that for all of them – save Scott Brown – this was a debut in the main event and they had tackles to win and reputations to make.
This conspired to ensure that the opening moments were full of a frantic hope with the Celtic players reacting almost manically to the roars of the crowd.
The match slowly but inevitably stabilised with Benfica trying to maintain possession, but for all Lennon's deep thought about selection, his team looked most likely when they resembled light cavalry.
Celtic are at their most threatening when they utilise pace. This comes into two forms: quickness of thought and fleetness of foot. The absence of Gary Hooper from the starting line-up deprived Celtic of the English striker's cleverness in both making runs and choosing a pass but Kris Commons was an able substitute in playing off the Venezuelan striker Miku.
Hooper came on in the second half to complement Commons but the partnership could not create the opening that would undo a Benfica defence that was mostly in control after the early onslaught.
Commons does not possess the speed to unnerve a top-level defence but he is an astute footballer with a pleasing ability to find space and then a shot. As Miku waits to make his Celtic reputation, the burden of creativity and threat fell to Commons. It was a task he embraced with enthusiasm but one that was to prove ultimately beyond him.
This failure was in part attributable to Celtic not finding pace in their legs, most specifically those of James Forrest, Adam Matthews and Emilio Izaguirre. Lennon needed penetration on the flanks and, for the most part, he was not to witness it.
Forrest has made a considerable reputation at 21 but he seems in the sort of minor dip that is accentuated by the size of the occasion. He did little substantially wrong last night but his job is to do something blindingly right. Even at such a callow age he is looked upon as Celtic's best hope for a burst, a cross and a breakthrough goal. There was only one significant, coruscating run to the touchline last night and this petered out. There was another incursion into the box that prompted a claim for a penalty as he crumpled under a challenge by Melgarejo but that was waved away emphatically by Nicola Rizzoli, the Italian referee.
Matthews, in contrast, was mostly anonymous in attack but Izaguirre, taken off after 65 minutes, endured the sort of night that highlights a dramatic downturn in form. If he was in possession, he lost it. If he took a touch, the ball was taken from him. If he made a challenge, he was awarded a second prize.
The Honduran made the sort of start at Celtic that brought inevitable headlines predicting a move to the Barclays Premier League. An ankle injury just more than a year ago may have inhibited him physically but it seems his loss of form is more of a matter of confidence.
Robbed of a threat out wide, Celtic could not pick their way through the middle. As Benfica became more confident and more dangerous, Celtic were resigned to the realisation that this was not a night when the biggest reputation would be made collectively with a grandstanding victory or individually with a breath-taking winner .
Celtic had to be content with making a point. The romantics will look at this as something of a disappointment. The realists will accept it as the result of an honest night's toil.
Honesty is commendable in a competition in a competition that reeks of money. It is not enough, though.
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