By Martin Macdonald
|CELTS SUFFER DEFEAT IN LISBON
Celtic failed to book their place in the knockout stage of the Champions League on Tuesday after Benfica narrowly edged out the Hoops 2-1 in a rainy night in Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, meaning the coveted second place in In the group will not be decided until the last match.
Neil Lennon’s men were buoyed by the news before the match that they would be guaranteed European football after Christmas, due to Spartak Moscow’s failure to claim any points against Barcelona. They only needed a score draw to progress to the last 16 on Tuesday, but will now have to get a positive result against the Russian side in the last round of matches in 2 weeks.
The Scottish champions could not have got off to a worst start, as the Portuguese side took the lead after just seven minutes. Adam Matthews failed to clear the ball on the right wing which allowed a cross to be fizzed into the box, and Benfica striker Ola John took advantage of some hesitant defending from the visitors to lash the ball into the bottom left corner.
Jorge Jesus’ side took confidence from their early strike, and dominantly kept possession whilst pegging Celtic back deep inside their own half. They showed another sign of their threat midway through the first half when Oscar Cardozo broke the offside trap and smashed a shot towards goal, only to see his strike hit the side-netting.
Despite being not showing much going forward in the opening 45 minutes, the Hoops clawed a goal back just before the break when Charlie Mulgrew’s deep corner kick to the back post was headed in by Georgios Samaras.
However, the goal did not do much to break the spirit of the home side, and the same formula of Benfica dominance continued in the second period. It was backs to the wall for Celtic, and their last ditch defending was summed up with Adam Matthew’s fantastic clearance off the line following a strike from Lima.
It was not to be, though, as the Celt’s brave defending was undone 20 minutes from time when Luisao rose highest in the box and nodded down to Ezequiel Garay, who smashed a volley past Fraser Forster at the near post.
One of the most damaging aspects of the defeat was the fact that influential midfielder Victor Wanyama picked up a yellow card in the game, meaning he will miss the crunch match against Spartak.
Lennon threw on Tony Watt and Kris Commons in an attempt to find an equaliser, and both managed to get a couple of strikes on goal, but it was ultimately not to be for the Hoops, who must now turn their attention to Spartak Moscow.
|SAMARAS LOOKS TO SPARTAK MATCH
Celtic striker Georgios Samaras has urged his team-mates and the club’s fans to put the disappointing result in Lisbon behind them and begin to focus on the crunch match against Spartak Moscow in a fortnight.
Goals from Ola John and Ezequiel Garay in a 2-1 victory for the Portuguese side leave the Hoops needing to get a positive result in two weeks when the Russian side visit Glasgow, but the Greek striker is optimistic about the challenge. Speaking after the Champions League loss on Tuesday, he said:
“When you lose a game you are not very happy. We did not play very well but the team effort was there and the match was close. We lost the game and now we have to beat Spartak Moscow at home in our last match at Celtic Park.”
"It was a nervous display and we did not have clear minds but we have to stay focused and positive for the Spartak game. We still have a chance to go through and we have to take that."
Samaras scored once again for Celtic in the Champions League against Benfica, proving his status as a vital player for Neil Lennon’s side, but the 27-year-old commented that he was not interested in individual plaudits. He said:
“I just want to beat Spartak in the last match and go through to the next round. If I score or somebody else scores, or it’s an own goal, I really do not care.”
|NEXT MATCH: HOOPS VERSUS HIGHLANDERS
Celtic’s next match sees the Glasgow side welcome Terry Butcher’s Inverness Caledonian Thistle side to Parkhead in the Scottish Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
The side from the Highlands have been performing well in recent months despite a shaky start to the season, and find themselves comfortably placed seventh in the SPL.
The last match between the sides proved to be a cracker. Victor Wanyama, Charlie Mulgrew, and a Tony Watt double gave the Hoops a 4-0 lead but a late rally from Inverness saw the result pulled back to 4-2.
Celtic are coming off a disappointing away loss in the Champions League to Benfica and must look to get their domestic dominance back on track.