CELTIC'S CHAMPIONS' League dream was scuppered last night as the Scottish title holders were overwhelmed by Croatia Zagreb. The Glasgow side must now settle for a consolation place in the Uefa Cup.
Silvio Maric's fine individual strike put Zagreb ahead after 23 minutes. A minute before the break Robert Prosinecki doubled that tally with a spot-kick - which he followed up with a second goal after 68 minutes to put this Champions' League second qualifying round tie out of Celtic's reach.
With a 1-0 first-leg lead, earned by Darren Jackson's goal at Parkhead, Celtic felt they had done enough at home to travel with confidence. Jackson was chosen as a lone striker, with only occasional support from Henrik Larsson.
Predictably, the home side made all the running. Mark Viduka struck a post for Zagreb, who hit the woodwork twice in Glasgow, after Mario Cvitanovic put him through for a one-on-one on Jonathan Gould.
There was little respite for Celtic. A looping header by Krunoslav Jurcic caused a further scare, as it went narrowly over the crossbar with Gould beaten again.
The breakthrough was not long delayed, though. Maric created time and space for himself on the edge of the area, eluding a crop of defenders, before firing low past Gould.
The goalkeeper made a stunning save to deny Prosinecki scoring from a curled free-kick that was bound for the top corner, but he was helpless when Tommy Boyd tripped Maric needlessly a minute before the interval. Prosinecki converted the penalty with ease.
Zagreb increased their attacking impetus after the interval, when Prosinecki found Viduka. He had only Gould to beat, but struck his shot against the keeper's legs.
Maric was looking dangerous for the home team whenever he got near the ball, and he sent a fierce angled drive into the side netting to offer further warning to Celtic.
On the hour, Tomislav Rukavina turned Stephane Mahe several times before striking a powerful effort against a post, with Gould fortunate that the woodwork saved him when his positioning was poor.
Then Prosinecki scored his second goal of the game to put Zagreb three ahead, and leave Celtic heading for home well beaten. The international playmaker was given too much time and space on the edge of the area, before beating the helpless Gould with a deflected 20-yard drive.
Croatia Zagreb: Ladic; Tokic, Maric (Saric, 84), Juric, Prosinecki, Viduka (Sokota, 73), Rukavina, Simic, Cvitanovic, Jelicic, Jurcic (Mujcin, 60). Substitutes not used: Butina (gk), Maldinic, Savic, Mikic.
Celtic: Gould; Boyd, Mahe, McNamara, Rieper, Stubbs, Larsson, Burley, Lambert, Jackson (Donnelly, 76), Blinker (Brattbakk, 63). Substitutes not used: Kerr (gk), Hannah, Annoni, McKinlay, Burchill.
Referee: P Collina (Italy).