CELTIC were 45-1 with one bookmaker to beat Barcelona last night.

One resisted the temptation to place a double with that other attractive proposition – a snowball to survive in hell.

The price on Celtic was similar to that offered on Wee Davie to beat Goliath. That long-price Old Testament bet came up with the aid of a slingshot. Celtic, it was presumed, needed something from the New Testament, namely a miracle. The Stemming of the Tide at Camp Nou almost came to pass. The bookies, however, do not pay out on "almost".

Barcelona won as strong favourites sometimes do, but it was never a canter, more a relentless gallop. They timed it to go ahead just on the finishing line.

There will be those who are surprised at the narrowness of the 2-1 scoreline but much of last night's events were predictable. Barcelona lost a goal because that is what they usually do. Andres Iniesta scored a brilliant goal because that is what he can do. And Barca won with almost the last kick of the ball because that is what great sides make a habit of doing. There is no mystery in any of this.

The goal was lost because Barca line up with all the stature of the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz, so it was no surprise that Georgios Samaras won a header that bounced off the shoulder of Mascherano and into the net.

What followed was a matter of Catalan tradition, too. Barcelona played to their eternal script of constant, incessant probing along the Celtic backline. They had to wait more than an hour and a half to complete a victory as Jordi Alba prodded in at the back post and, as much as one sympathised with a defiant Celtic, it was almost an inevitable ending.

If Barcelona performed to their considerable reputation in terms of possession and territorial domination, there was much to admire about the Scottish champions. There was no shock in that either to those who have watched Neil Lennon's side draw with Benfica and defeat Spartak Moscow. They lacked nothing in effort, organisation or will. Their gameplan was to deny Barcelona space in the centre and to gamble that the side collectively and in the shape of the two full-backs could deal with crosses. This was largely completed with the odd gasp, the occasional hacked clearance, the regular and inspired tackle.

However, they conceded two goals to a team that creates opportunities the way a magician produces a rabbit from his top hat.

This was made all the more painful because Celtic performed to a high level in the most testing of circumstances. Defensively, Mikael Lustig and Efe Ambrose had moments of heroism and the tackle from Kelvin Wilson on Lionel Messi haring in on goal was precision perfect.

The midfield harried continuously and did their best to fill the gaps as Barcelona created space amid a clutch of Hooped bodies. Samaras and Gary Hooper had the most difficult task in trying to retain possession from passes that were hopeful, even desperate rather than accurate.

Behind them all stood Celtic's Goliath, Fraser Forster. He would have taken the pebble from David and nodded it out for a corner. He made good saves from Marc Bartra, Adriano, and Iniesta. He made two great saves from Messi. The first was a lunge when the Argentine connected with a cross just yards from goal. The other was a magnificent leap and a strong hand to turn a header from Messi round a post.

All of the above is what happens at Camp Nou. Barcelona attack with pace and creativity, the visitors have to work like galley slaves, and the goalkeeper occasionally has to do a credible impersonation of Superman.

Celtic needed just something extra to prise the most sensational result from an admirable performance. To do this, they had to excel in the Barcelona defensive third. Joe Ledley, combative and assertive throughout, just missed out on a header at a corner, but the most crucial moments were when Celtic broke on a Barca defence that was, at times, under-manned and was always undersized.

Victor Wanyama, Hooper and Ledley all had just the merest chance to exploit a retreating defence but the touch was too strong or the thought too weak. In Camp Nou on Champions League night, it demands the coolest of visitors to set up and execute a breakaway goal.

This composure was just beyond Celtic at vital moments as tiredness and tension told. Their cause was also compromised when Samaras left in the first half with an ankle injury but Kris Commons was threatening when he came on and James Forrest must be encouraged to drive at defenders. But Barca remain thoroughbreds. They stretched for the line with a desperation and a drive that could not be denied. Celtic thus finished second in a two-horse race.

However, there is a considerable consolation for Lennon as he looks at the Group G table this morning. Celtic are still second and in touch of a qualification spot.