BRENDAN Rodgers last night insisted Celtic can still secure European football after Christmas this season despite seeing his side slump to their heaviest home defeat in 122 years and their worst ever European result at Parkhead against Paris Saint-Germain.
An Edinson Cavani double, first-half strikes from Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and a late Mikael Lustig own goal meant the free-spending French club opened their Champions League campaign in style.
It was the first time since their Glasgow rivals lost 5-0 to Hearts way back on September 1895 that they had been beaten so heavily at home – and the first time they had been beaten by that scoreline in Europe ever.
Celtic’s worst European result before last night was 3-0 – a result they had previously suffered against Saint-Germain in 1995, AC Milan in 2013 and Juventus in 2013.
However, Rodgers, whose side crashed to their heaviest European result ever in their opening Champions League group game last season when they lost 7-0 to Barcelona in the Nou Camp, is convinced his team can recover.
The Scottish champions must finish in the top two of Group B to progress to the last 16 of the Champions League for the fourth time or come third to book a place in the last 32 of the Europa League.
Their manager feels his side can bounce back from the disappointing loss to “the best team in the world at the moment” in their forthcoming matches against Anderlecht and Bayern Munich and achieve their objective.
“I’m not worried about records,” said Rodgers. “Tonight we were playing against world-class opponents. It’s always easy to play at 0-3, but in the second half we played better. I want them to start like that in future. If we get better we can achieve the main aim, which is European football after Christmas.
“At this level you have to make the ball work, and you have to have that belief. In that opening period, there was too much space, the physicality wasn’t what it should have been. Regardless of who we were playing, it wasn’t what we would like.
“We were playing like under-12s at times for me. But I don’t want to be too harsh on the players. We were playing against potential champions of this tournament. We weren’t just play a level above. We were playing two or three levels above.
“You have to give Paris credit. They showed why they’re going to be up there to win this competition. It’s a tough lesson, a harsh lesson for us. This is a level which is all about learning for us, and tonight we’ll learn from that.
“It’s a phenomenal squad that Paris have, but I was proud of the players in the second half and the supporters were terrific tonight, they kept encouraging us.”
Rodgers was upset that a Celtic support invaded the pitch when his team fell 3-0 down in the first half and attempted unsuccessfully to kick Saint-Germain striker Mbappe.
“The crowd’s reaction said it all,” he said. “It was bitterly disappointing a supporter getting onto the pitch. I am sure the club will deal with that.”
Meanwhile, Rodgers singled out Anthony Ralston, the 18-year-old who started the game at right back, for special praise for how he performed against Neymar, the world record £198 million Brazilian forward. “I thought he coped very well with it,” he said. “It will stand him in good stead going forward.”
Unai Emery, the Saint-Germain coach, was delighted with how his side performed. “I’m really happy with win,” he said. “The most difficult thing at Celtic Park is to cope with rhythm and intensity of Celtic with the support they have with them. My team showed character.
“It was a team effort and they showed a really controlled approach to the game, which pleased me. I thought we had a lot of strength in midfield. We controlled the whole park, front, back. What I was really pleased with is that we were in control with and without the ball. It was a team effort, including the subs.”