Football Expert & Columnist
Andy Walker says Celtic face ultimate Champions League test in Barcelona
A trip to the Nou Camp is the best education inexperienced Celtic could hope for, says Andy Walker.
Last Updated: 22/10/12 10:32am
I imagine every Celtic player will be relishing the prospect of playing in such magnificent surroundings on Tuesday night against Barcelona in Europe's premier club competition.
The contrast in Champions League experience couldn't be starker between the SPL title-holders and the La Liga winners.
This is the first taste of the competition for the likes of Efe Ambrose, Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper and Fraser Forster. And so far, they haven't looked out of place.
A deserved point at home to Benfica was satisfactory but was followed by the much more impressive win in Russia against Spartak Moscow. But now they're going head-to-head against some of the greatest players in the world.
Lionel Messi, Xavi and Anders Iniesta are steeped in Champions League glory and are favourites to get to the Wembley final again in May 2013.
Win, lose or draw, it's the best education Neil Lennon's inexperienced players could possibly hope for.
This is the ultimate test of character for Scotland's champions.
Can they compete with some of the greatest players the world has ever seen?
At times, watching Barcelona play is like a different sport to what we see on a weekly basis in the SPL.
But having had the privilege of being in the crowd when Barca thrashed Real Madrid 5-0 at the Nou Camp two years ago, I saw up close just how good they can be.
This side can take anyone apart on their day.
Neil Lennon will have thought long and hard as to how he'll ask his players to approach the game. What sort of game plan can he come up with?
The Celtic boss flew to Spain after watching his men cruise to a 5-0 victory away to St Mirren on Saturday and took in the remarkable 5-4 contest between Tito Villanova's men and Deportivo La Coruna.
And yet again, Lionel Messi produced another hat-trick in an extraordinary game.
Given how quickly they pass and move, my guess is that Fraser Forster will be the busiest man in a Celtic jersey. But he should relish the opportunity of showing everyone just what he is capable of.
Some years ago, a young David Marshall was thrown in by Martin O'Neill against Barca in the Nou Camp and produced the performance of his life.
If Forster can do the same on Tuesday, he will surely give England boss Roy Hodgson food for thought. Joe Hart remains England's undisputed No.1 but a top class performance from Forster will enhance his growing reputation.
Similarly, if Gary Hooper can somehow get on the scoresheet, his reputation will soar.
Liverpool are reported to be weighing up a possible bid for the Celtic striker in the January transfer window and goals in the Champions League will be evidence that Hooper can score in any company.
This is not a game to be wary of for Neil Lennon's men.
Their success is being on the same pitch as some of the most experienced Champions League players and learning how to cope.
Whatever happens in the Nou Camp - and I fancy Barca to win comfortably - the important thing to remember is that Celtic are still very much alive in the group and have a decent chance of ousting the much-fancied Benfica and Spartak Moscow to qualify for the knockout stage.