Thursday, 6 December 2012

Celtic qualify for last 16

NEIL Lennon in his first season as a Champions League manager has led Celtic to the knock-out stages of the competition.

ITV tweeted this moments after the draw for the group stages was made. They swiftly deleted it after being bombarded by tweets from angry Celtic fans demanding an explanation.

Neil Lennon also took to twitter to ask for an apology.
I’m sure most Celtic fans can now look back and laugh, knowing now they have proved their doubters wrong.

In a dramatic end to the group stages, Celtic’s fate wasn’t in their own hands after losing to Benfica on match day five. They faced Spartak Moscow at Celtic Park and Benfica had the challenge of trying to get an unlikely result at Barcelona.
What made the night more intriguing was the fact that Barcelona and Spartak both had nothing to play for.

Barcelona dropped several key players, including Lionel Messi. This gave Benfica a much greater chance of getting a result.

Lennon had to do without the influential Victor Wanyama, who was suspended, but was otherwise untroubled by issues of selection.

The atmosphere wasn’t as electric as usual at Parkhead, understandable giving what was at stake. Georgios Samaras played merely a hopeful ball forward, which Juan should easily have cut out. Instead, the Argentine woefully miscued his clearance straight to the feet of Gary Hooper and the striker lashed a low shot beyond Sergei Pesyakov to the sheer relief of the Celtic fans.

At this point it was still goalless in the game in Spain, which would see Celtic progress, at the expense of Benfica.

Such clinical finishing has been an admirable trait during Celtic's European run. Heading into this game, they had a higher percentage of Champions League goals from shots on target than both Real Madrid and Barcelona. Hooper simply endorsed that statistic.
Emmanuel Emenike who caused Celtic’s backline trouble all night, in particular Efe Ambrose, shrugged off the attentions of Beram Kayal before playing in Ari, who offered a deft chip over the onrushing Fraser Forster. Kelvin Wilson's despairing goalline header could only help the ball into the net.

 This silenced the Celtic crowd who were noticeably quiet and nervous.
Celtic came out in the second half with much more urgency than they had done in the first.

Only the post denied Georgios Samaras a goal that would’ve seen Celtic go back in front.
Then with only eight minutes remaining, a ball into the box was expertly controlled by Samaras who showed a good bit of skill and earned a penalty kick after he was fouled by Marek Suchy.

Lennon couldn’t watch, admittedly I also watched through my fingers. The second the ball hit the crossbar, my heart skipped a beat. Then it was complete jubilation as the ball crossed the line and hit the roof of the net.

All Celtic had to do now was see out the remaining minutes.
Commons then got an extremely nasty kick, which saw Kallstrom sent off.

Samaras and Mulgrew then kept the ball in the corner flag expertly until the 94th minute when a counter attack from Spartak threatened to ruin the party. Celtic survived and saw out the game without conceding. As did Barcelona which meant Celtic had qualified.

Now the Celtic fans could celebrate and enjoy the night.
After wins against Spartak home and away, a stunning victory at home to Barcelona, and a point against Benfica on the opening night, Celtic qualified with 10 points, a record for a Scottish team.

My final word goes to the person behind the infamous ITV “bye bye” tweet. We will be sure to send Manchester City and Chelsea a postcard!
We’re having a party in the Champions League!

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