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  • Dembele the hero as Celtic secure Champions League play-off spot

    Dembele the hero as Celtic secure Champions League play-off spot

    By: Martin Dalziel on 03 Aug, 2016 21:48

  • UEFA Champions League
    Third qualifying round second-leg
    Celtic Park
    Wednesday August 3, 2016

    CELTIC...2
    (Griffiths 45+2’ [Pen], Dembele 90+3 [Pen])

    FC ASTANA...1
    (Ibraimi 62)

    Celtic win 3-2 on aggregate

    CELTIC booked their place in the play-off round of the UEFA Champions League with a last gasp penalty from Moussa Dembele on a night of drama at Paradise.

    After taking the lead on the stroke of half-time through Leigh Griffiths’ spot kick, Astana levelled after the hour mark when Craig Gordon was caught off his line after making a clearance, allowing Agim Ibraimi to loop a ball into the net.

    With the game poised at 1-1 on the night and 2-2 on aggregate, the action spilled from end-to-end, but the decisive strike came from Dembele, who was felled in the area as he attempted to pull the trigger in injury-time. The Frenchmen showed a steely determination to dust himself off and take the spot kick, however, and his first goal for the Bhoys gave Brendan Rodgers’ team the win to take them into the final round of qualifying matches before the group stages.

    Friday’s draw will determine Celtic’s opponents in the play-offs but the Hoops will go in with confidence following another action-packed evening at Paradise.

    With Celtic leading the tie on aggregate through the away goals rule, there was no immediate need for the Bhoys to go in search of the opening goal but that didn’t stop them from starting on the front foot, pushing Astana back towards their own box.

    The opening 20 minutes were punctuated with Celtic attacks, long balls into the box, neat passing and fouls by Astana, with Igor Shitov booked for an elbow on James Forrest – one of two Celtic changes from the first-leg  –  but there were no clear cut chances for the Bhoys.

    Brendan Rodgers’ team remained resolute, however, and a clever through ball from Callum McGregor to Leigh Griffiths opened up a sight of goal for the striker, who fizzed an effort just wide of the right post.

    The Hoops were then dealt a massive blow when Patrick Roberts was forced off after only 30 minutes through injury. The winger was replaced by Stefan Johansen, and the Celts went back about building their momentum again but the loss of Roberts took the sting out of the game and the home crowd.

    The Bhoys finally got back on the front foot and carved out their best chance of the half when McGregor held off his marker to supply a pass to Stuart Armstrong 20 yards out, but the Astana keeper, Eric, got down well to save the midfielder’s right-footed shot.

    Celtic Park was then on its feet as Kieran Tierney was brought down in the box on the stroke of half-time and a penalty was awarded to the Celts. The full-back was caught by Dimitri Shmoko just inside the area with the defender booked for the challenge, allowing Griffiths to step up the spot and smash a thunderous penalty to Eric’s left and put the Hoops 1-0 ahead on the night, with Junior Kabananga also booked for his protests after the goal.

    There was no halting Celtic’s momentum after the restart with Johansen supplying a perfectly-weighted pass through the Astana defence for Griffiths, but he rattled the side netting, before Tierney and Forrest were foiled in the box as the Hoops pressed forward.

    The Kazakhstani side had the ball in the back of the net from a header after a free-kick on 55 minutes but the linesman’s flag came to Celtic’s rescue, cancelling the out the goal for offside. Stanimir Stoilov’s side were almost in again shortly after from another free-kick but the Hoops defended well at the second attempt.

    The chances were cause enough for Brendan Rodgers to shuffle his team, however, handing Kolo Toure his Celtic debut, with Stuart Armstrong coming off for the Ivorian defender.

    Disaster then struck moments later when Astana levelled the tie on the hour mark as substitute Agim Ibraimi took advantage of a headed clearance from Gordon to loop a shot over the keeper with the Celtic keeper outside his area.

    The Hoops responded with shots from Tierney and Forrest, reacting well to conceding, but the game remained precariously poised at 1-1 as it approached the last 10 minutes, with the Bhoys switching Forrest with Moussa Dembele for their final change.

    The prospect of extra-time hung in the air as the game crept towards its conclusion but destiny came calling for the Bhoys when Dembele was fouled in the area on the 90-minute mark.

    Tension filled the air, Igor Shitov was dismissed for the foul, but Celtic’s French striker stepped up with calmness and composure to slot home a dramatic injury-time winner for the Scottish champions and secure their place in the play-off round of the competition.

    It was an incredible end to a dramatic European night at Paradise and Brendan Rodgers' side will now discover their play-off opponents in Friday’s draw.

    CELTIC (4-3-3) Gordon; Janko, Lustig, O’Connell, Tierney; McGregor, Brown, Armstrong (Toure 60); Roberts (Johansen 32), Griffiths, Forrest (Dembele 75)
    Not used: Fasan, Izaguirre, Ciftci, Rogic

    FC ASTANA (4-3-3) Eric; Shitov, Logvinenko, Anicic, Shomko;, Muzhikov, Canas, Beysebekov; Twumasi, Nurgaliyan (Ibraimi 57), Kabananga
    Not used: Mokin, Tagybergen, Despotovic, Najaryan, Maliy, Kulbekov

    Website man of the match: Kieran Tierney

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