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  • Celts seal Euro football beyond Christmas despite narrow defeat

    Celts seal Euro football beyond Christmas despite narrow defeat

    By: Mark Henderson on 05 Dec, 2017 21:38

  • UEFA Champions League
    Celtic Park, Glasgow
    Tuesday, December 5, 2017


    (Simunovic o.g 62)

    CELTIC booked their place in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League, despite losing narrowly 1-0 to Anderlecht in Paradise.

    An own-goal from Jozo Simunovic just after the hour-mark gave the Brussels side the spoils – but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Scottish treble-winners from sealing third spot in Group B of the UEFA Champions League and an extended European adventure this season.  

    And Brendan Rodgers’ side will discover their opponents in the knockout stages of the Europa League in next Monday’s draw in Nyon.

    Moussa Dembele had recovered from injury and was restored to starting XI as Brendan Rodgers made five changes to the side side which beat Motherwell 5-1 at the weekend, with hat-trick hero Odsonne Edouard dropping to the bench. Jozo Simunovic, Callum McGregor, Stuart Armstrong and James Forrest also came into the team.   

    There was the usual cacophony of noise ahead of a big European night in Paradise as the Celts were roared into action. But it was the visitors who made the brighter start, and Craig Gordon had to make a smart save inside the opening two minutes to block Sven Kurms goal-bound shot after Henry Onyekuru had cut the ball back from the byline.

    The hosts began to grow into the contest, fashioning some promising positions down either flank, but Gordon was called into action again, smothering Adrien Trebel’s acrobatic volley in the 17th minute as the Belgian title-winners continued to threaten.

    With the Hoops struggling to find their normal passing rhythm, Trebel had another attempt, taking aim with a rising half-volley from distance but, again, Gordon was well positioned and equal to the task.

    There was no lack of effort or application from the home side but they were unable to force opposition goalkeeper Frank Boeckx into meaningful action, even when they were awarded set-pieces in the final third.  

    Brendan Rodgers made two changes at the break, with Tom Rogic and Olivier Ntcham replacing Armstrong and Scott Sinclair as the Scottish champions reverted to a back-three.

    And it almost had an instant impact as Ntcham swept a shot wide from Lustig’s cross within minutes of the restart. Celtic looked to have a spring back in their step, and driving run and shot from Dembele was deflected into Boeckx’s arms.

    This resurgence sparked a response from the home crowd as the decibel levels rose again in Paradise. Forrest was growing in prominence and after collecting a return pass from Kieran Tierney, he forced Boeckx into low save from the edge of the box.  

    As the Hoops continued to grow in ascendency, Jozo Simunovic had a weak effort saved by Boeckx from a Celtic corner.

    However, just as the home side were enjoying their best spell of the game, Anderlecht opened the scoring in fortuitous circumstances as, following a cross from the right, Pieter Gerkenes’ header deflected off Simunovic and crept in at the far post.

    Simunovic came close to making amends five minutes later when he controlled Boyata’s header, swivelled and unleashed volley that fizzed narrowly over.

    A lung-bursting from Tierney then gave Dembele a glimmer of goal but the striker was quickly crowded out, preventing him from making a clean connection. That wasn’t an issue for Mikael Lustig when he made excellent contact from Ntcham’s free-kick, shortly after, but unfortunately his header was straight down the throat of Boeckx.

    At the other end, Gordon made his first save of the second half from Sofiane Hanni’s 20-yard drive, while Trebel also blazed over.   

    Ntcham, who had added purpose and drive since his introduction, brought out another save from Boeckx in the closing stages with a long-range effort as the Bhoys attempted to finish with a flourish. 

    However, while it wasn’t to be for the Celts on the night, they had achieved their ultimate objective and secured European football beyond Christmas thanks to their third-placed finish in one of toughest groups in this season’s competition.   

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Simunovic, Tierney; McGregor, Brown; Forrest, Armstrong (Ntcham 46), Sinclair (Rogic 46); Dembele (Edouard 74)
    Not Used: De Vries, Bitton, Griffiths, Ajer

    ANDERLECHT (4-2-3-1) Boeckx; Appiah (Bruno 89) Mbodji (Josue Sa 74), Spajic, Obradovic; Dendoncker, Kums; Gerkens (Teodorczyk 79), Hanni, Trebel; Onyekuru
    Not Used: Sels, Deschacht, Beric Harbaoui

    Website Man of the Match: Olivier Ntcham


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