Football: Celtic home in on Hampden

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The Independent Online
Celtic 2 Dundee United 0

Blinker 30

Viduka 39

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 43,691

HAMPDEN PARK'S status among football fans is legendary, but obviously its reputation did not travel too well Down Under. Mark Viduka booked Celtic's place in next month's Scottish Cup final at the famous old ground and then asked: "They play rugby there, don't they?"

The Australian striker defied a virus to deliver the crucial goal which laid low Dundee United and allows Celtic to participate on 29 May, when Hampden welcomes back the final after an absence of three years and a pounds 65m refit. The scene of football's most memorable game, that epic 1960 European Cup final which saw Real Madrid defeat Eintracht Frankfurt 7- 3, will embrace its most frequent visitors. Celtic have been involved in 47 of the previous finals and they will be going for a record 31st success when the Scottish Cup returns to its spiritual home.

Not that it would appear to trouble Viduka. At least the man whose controversial pounds 3m move from Croatia Zagreb brought him notoriety is blessed with a better heart than head. He revealed later that he should not have played in the semi-final, but defied the orders of his doctor before succumbing to breathing problems and remaining in the dressing-room at half-time.

"I felt the virus after training yesterday," Viduka explained, "but wanted to give it a go. But during the game I was feeling lethargic and had no energy. I spoke to the doctor at half-time and he told me I could not go back out."

By then, however, the game was as good as over. Such was the one-way traffic flowing towards Sieb Dijkstra's goal that it was a surprise the Dundee United goalkeeper had only been beaten twice before the interval. Henrik Larsson came close on two occasions to his 38th goal of the season, before Viduka - obviously under the weather - missed a header from point- blank range in the 27th minute after Tosh McKinlay's perfect cross.

Three minutes later, Regi Blinker showed the Aussie how it was done. The Dutchman had cast off his habitually sloppy play to become the most potent player on the pitch and a fierce left-foot shot was just reward.

United will wince at the memory. Maurice Malpas's original error allowed Jackie McNamara to skip clear and send in the cross, Jason de Vos's clearing header was weak, and when the ball finally broke to Blinker he buried it past Dijkstra.

Minutes later, Viduka had the ball in the net again, but was judged to be offside, however there was little argument about the Australian's finish in the 39th minute. Viduka profited from Siggi Jonsson's generosity to beat the offside trap and the striker's right-foot shot took a wicked deflection to carry it over the despairing Dijkstra's outstretched hand.

United, driven on by Billy Dodds, rediscovered their courage in the second half, but the 1994 winners never truly threatened to pull off a comeback. Celtic, as Viduka now knows, were always tailor-made for Hampden.