GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — Barcelona capitalized on the needless sending-off of Celtic captain Scott Brown to overcome the plucky Scottish champions 1-0 in the Champions League on Tuesday, with Cesc Fabregas grabbing a 75th-minute winner.
Missing the injured Lionel Messi, Barca produced a flat performance at the ground where it memorably lost in last year's group stage but the game turned when Brown was given a straight red card in the 59th minute for kicking out at Neymar.
Celtic's overworked defense failed to hold out for the final half hour as Fabregas headed a cross by substitute Alexis Sanchez into the corner, earning the Spanish giants a second straight victory in Group H, having already beaten Ajax 4-0.
Celtic lost its first group match, 2-0 at AC Milan, and already has an uphill battle to reach the knockout stage.
Barca's win will help partially erase the memory of last season's shock defeat at Celtic Park but the result was in the balance before Brown's red card.
At first glance, the decision seemed harsh, with Celtic having men behind the ball when Neymar was hauled down in full flight. But replays showed Brown kicked out at the Brazilian, and the midfielder didn't appear to complain too strongly when French referee Stephane Lannoy brandished the card.
From being a tight contest, Barca could finally escape the shackles and Sanchez delivered the most incisive piece of football of the whole match — and Fabregas, playing as the central striker in Messi's absence, did the rest.
Barca stars Xavi Hernandez and Gerard Pique are among the world's star players to have talked about the spine-tingling atmosphere at Celtic on big European nights. "No words to describe the atmosphere at Celtic Park," Pique tweeted as he left the stadium last year.
And the visitors couldn't have failed to be impressed by the crowd's rousing rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" when both sets of players were in tunnel, or the huge roar as Celtic emerged from an on-field team huddle for the kickoff.
Every kick, tackle and attempted break by Celtic was received with an enormous din — although it took the home side 1 minute 44 seconds to touch the ball for the first time as Barcelona, the Spanish league leader after a perfect seven-game start to the campaign, slipped quickly into its passing groove.
Adopting the blueprint of most of the smaller teams playing Barca nowadays, Celtic had every man behind ball bar its lone striker, Georgios Samaras, when defending. It meant the visitors had all the possession — 72 percent in the first half — but frustratingly few clear sights at Fraser Forster's goal.
The dynamic presence of Messi — out with a right thigh injury — was sorely missed, with Barca sometimes even ditching its tiki-taka passing and resorting to sending diagonal cross-field passes in behind Celtic's full backs to launch attacks.
Indeed, Neymar's clipped half-volley that flashed past the post from Dani Alves' right-wing cross was the only chance of note in the first half. Barca actually looked more dangerous and sprightly when Celtic was on the attack — but that seldom happened.
The match became even more lopsided after Brown's silly sending-off, after which Neymar was vociferously booed whenever he touched the ball.
Still, though, Celtic defended comfortably and came close to taking the lead when first James Forrest brought a diving save out of goalkeeper Victor Valdes before Charlie Mulgrew headed the resulting corner narrowly wide.
But Barca was not to be denied and within minutes of coming on for Pedro Rodriguez, Sanchez crossed for Fabregas to head the ball back in the direction it came.
Forster had no choice but he produced heroics to deny Sanchez, twice, and Neymar late on as Barcelona broke at will late on.