Champions League - Celtic out despite win

Eurosport - Wed, 04 Aug 21:40:00 2010

Celtic will not play Champions League football for another season after a 2-1 win at home to Braga failed to overturn their third qualifying round first-leg deficit, with the SPL side losing 4-2 on aggregate.

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With the onus on Celtic to get goals after losing the first leg 3-0, they fell behind to Paulo Cesar’s header on 20 minutes.

Second-half goals from new signings Gary Hooper and Efrain Juarez gave them hope but, despite bombarding the Portuguese runners-up late on, the Glasgow side were unable to score again and crashed out of Europe’s premier club competition for a second successive season after their 2009 play-off defeat to Arsenal.

Despite starting well enough, they looked terribly unsure at the back: Charlie Mulgrew was particularly uncomfortable with a succession of misplaced passes and poor positional decisions, while South Korea right-back Cha Du-Ri seemed more focused on his attacking duties than defending.

The tie was effectively over before the midway point of the first half, when the visitors took the lead against the run of play.

Mulgrew and Jos Hooiveld allowed Alan to drop a superb cross on to the head of Cesar, who evaded the slack attentions of Cha to flick a header into the bottom left corner.

The Portuguese runners-up were happy to continue their policy of containing Celtic and looking for the break: a better side would have further punished the Hoops, who kept giving the ball away in dangerous positions while leaving gaping holes at the back.

Gasps and groans from the Parkhead faithful accompanied every misplaced pass or shot, but Neil Lennon’s side were reasonably ambitious in attack, lacking the quality or finishing instinct to match good build-up play.

Giorgios Samaras had the best chance to level in the first half, poking an inventive effort just wide of the far post, but Braga looked more likely to add a second despite a relative lack of possession.

Mulgrew was hauled off at half-time, with Marc-Antoine Fortune thrown on as Celtic went 3-4-3.

The gamble paid off as Fortune gave Braga a torrid time with his pace and direct running.

They almost conceded a second, with Alan and Matheus somehow missing Cesar’s low ball across an unguarded goal on the break, but drew level soon afterwards when a superb run and cross from Fortune was knocked into an empty net by Hooper.

Celtic seemed more comfortable with a back three - or rather without Mulgrew’s bungling - and they were agonisingly close to a second when Juarez’s half-volley was blocked by the unsuspecting Alberto Rodriguez, while Samaras curled a free-kick inches wide of the far post.

A Juarez corner should have yielded a goal, as substitute Daryl Murphy and Wales midfielder Joe Ledley saw efforts blocked by diving bodies in the six-yard box, while Samaras nodded just wide from a Juarez free-kick - won by Fortune - as Celtic came closer and closer to a winner on the night.

They still had their moments at the back - assistant manager Johan Mjallby hurled vociferous abuse at his defenders when a hospital back-pass almost saw keeper Lukasz Zaluska knock it in off Lima.

Celtic finally got a deserved second as Samaras, now playing on the left after an injury to Shaun Maloney, played a superb cross that Juarez flicked home as Braga appealed for offside.

With 11 minutes left Celtic threw everything at their guests, who packed the defence and held firm despite the hosts’ valiant efforts.

Celtic must now succeed in a further play-off if they are to play in this season's Europa League, while Braga will wait on a final qualifying-round draw for the premier competition that could lump them with the likes of Tottenham, Ajax, Sevilla, Werder Bremen or Sampdoria.

Reda Maher / Eurosport

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