Bayer Leverkusen is backed by one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies and Celtic has swallowed the bitterest pill in the North Rhine.
The Hoops were on their way to scoring a famous first win on German soil after coming from behind to take the lead at the BayArena only to be sickened by a late show after 90 minutes of breathlessness.
Robert Andrich headed home after just 16 minutes after Celtic ignored an earlier warning when the midfielder went wide from a corner.
Ange Postecoglou’s men were second best, but drew exquisitely five minutes before the break when Josip Juranovic scored a penalty from Panenka.
And then, after a superb double save from Joe Hart, Jota completed an incredible turnaround by putting them in the lead before the hour mark.
It was something extraordinary, but Andrich completed his double with just nine minutes to deny Celtic a famous victory and Moussa Diaby scored a spectacular goal.
It kills Celtic’s hopes in Europa League group stage football, but they still have the comfort of the Conference League, which was already assured.
Gerardo Seoane’s men defeated the Hoops 4-0 at the east end of Glasgow, but they had won only twice in their last eight games before this one.
The visitors wanted to add to that uneven streak and gave Hampden hero James Forrest his first start since August as they looked to reach the Germans.
But Celtic were lucky not to be behind a goal after just 10 minutes when Andrich sent a free header from a corner.
The Hoops were under the familiar and familiar face that Jeremie Frimpong was causing trouble on the right for Leverkusen.
And there came an increasingly likely first game for the home team with just over a quarter of an hour played, and it was a carbon copy of Bayer’s previous opportunity.
Boy wonder Florian Wirtz swung into a corner from the right and this time Andrich hit the mark as he ran to the box to pass Joe Hart.
It was difficult to see a way back at that stage, but Kyogo got behind and while he was offside and his shot was off target, it was at least a positive sign.
And then they were back in the game when Greek referee Tasos Sidiropoulos consulted the VAR before awarding a penalty after Kyogo was eliminated by Bayer goalkeeper and captain Lukas Hradecky on a Jota cross.
Juranovic stepped up and it was as cool as you’d like from the Croat who hit the ball down the middle and under the crossbar.
It was a bold skill in a big time, yet he was sloppy at the other end just before halftime as it almost cost him by his side.
Sloppy play gave Leverkusen possession when Celtic were saved TWICE by the wood – the first when Diaby hit the crossbar and then Amine Adli also sent the rebound to the post.
If the goal frame came to his rescue on that occasion, it was goalkeeper Hart who made a miraculous save to keep the Germans out at the start of the second half.
The home team came in too easily when Diaby ran away from Anthony Ralston, but Hart saved with his feet and then Adli thought he had a touch on the rebound, but the Celtic goalkeeper somehow bounced back to save again.
It was something heroic and the importance of that was underscored as the Hoops took the lead with Hart starting the fast break with a pitch to James Forrest.
Forrest put it back in the path of David Turnbull, who fed Nir Bitton and the Israeli played it with Kyogo, who, after Frimpong slipped, passed it to Jota and took a superb shot into the far corner.
Celtic were in dream land, but they had 34 minutes to hang on and it looked like they were going to do it.
But two goals in five minutes in the final 10 minutes of the game left them sick and two late double changes must be said: Nir Bitton and Kyogo left with James McCarthy and Albian Ajeti after Liel Abada and Mikey Johnston replaced Jota and James. Forrest – did not help.
Andrich got his second and it was ironic that it was a shot through Hart’s legs and then Wirtz crossed for Diaby, who stepped on the ball to send a great shot into the net.
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Here are three talking points from the BayArena
Top marks against the best in the future, but defensive naivety is costly
“We have to compare ourselves with the best,” Ange Postecoglou said before the toughest test of the group.
And his Celtic team certainly went head-to-head against a superior team in a country where they had never won, making defeat even more difficult to accept.
Considering that the Hoops had lost 4-0 at home to the Bundesliga side, this illustrates the great strides Celtic have made with Postecoglou.
It was always going to take time for the former Australia coach to get the team to play his style, but they’re scary when they’re in full flow and they just need to beef up that defense.
The first goal was from a collegiate defending and with 2-1 up they shouldn’t have been left with nothing.
Celtic’s stylish players have received so much praise this season in the Angeball style that flows freely and attracts attention.
But while he has seemed suspicious at times, the signing of Joe Hart from Tottenham Hotspur has been crafty.
And he made an absolutely incredible save to deny Amine Adli, who thought he had a bunt after the ball broke after Hart’s opening save from Moussa Diaby.
It was an incredible save and at a crucial moment when the Hoops took to the park shortly after to score second.
Hart made another good save with Adli’s foot, but was hit, ironically, with a shot to the legs at the end before that late sick.
Great claim from the Croatian penalty taker
Celtic were at a point of annoyance recently when Giorgos Giakoumakis missed a last-gasp opportunity to seal a vital win against Livingston from the spot.
Many legions of Hoops were scratching their heads as to why the Greek had taken him in the first place after Josip Juranovic had coldly scored two previous penalties.
But Ange Postecoglou explained that Giakoumakis was the designated receiver and had not been on the field on previous occasions.
Well, surely there can be no debate now. The heart was in his mouth when his super indifferent penalty went over the bar, but it took big balls to try and he was rewarded with the draw.
And the full-back should remain on penalties from now on, even if that could mean some nerves when he steps up in the future.