Football: Jackson gives Celtic the edge

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The Independent Online
Celtic 1 Croatia Zagreb 0

THROUGH THE cheers, there were fears for Celtic. Any victory in Europe is to be welcomed but, after being stretched throughout the 90 minutes, Celtic will again have to be at their best in two weeks' time if they are to progress to the Champions' League.

The Scottish champions called upon every ounce of determination and inspiration to carve out this win, but there were signs of the undeniable quality and danger of Croatia Zagreb throughout.

Twice the visitors struck woodwork: a header from Josko Jelicic hit the bar in the fourth minute and then Robert Prosinecki's free-kick, 12 minutes from time, came back off a post. In Celtic's favour is the fact that the Croatian side have been in a similar situation before and failed to reach the Champions' League.

The home side went into this second qualifying round first leg hoping to show their supporters they were untroubled by the row over bonuses that had led to pounds 280,000 being given to charity. Certainly, the cheers of the fans after the final whistle suggested they had succeeded, but it is doubtful that many of those supporters will genuinely believe this margin of victory will be enough.

If Henrik Larsson had been able to beat Drazen Ladic in the last minute, the second leg might have been more comfortable, but the World Cup goalkeeper dropped on the ball to deny the Swede.

Celtic, in the second half especially, found space beyond the visitors' defence but were unable to add to the lead they acquired 10 minutes after the interval. Darren Jackson, who had replaced Harald Brattbakk at half- time, was on hand to fire home after Craig Burley saw a powerful shot blocked on the line.

Burley, along with Paul Lambert, provided the drive from midfield in Celtic's best moves, and he came close himself on a couple of occasions with long-range efforts.

The Celtic midfield generated what chances were made, and it is with their ability in that area that the Scottish side must look to capitalise in the second leg. However, there remains about the side a lack of the cutting edge that is so necessary at this level.

The two best Celtic efforts of the first half fell to Jackie McNamara, who saw one shot saved by the goalkeeper and another blocked. In contrast, it took the skills of Jonathan Gould to keep Celtic level at half-time. He dived to his left to save well from Prosinecki and from the resultant corner he blocked a close range shot by Silvio Maric.

Celtic increased the pace and vigour of the game in the second period and were worthy of the goal they scored, which came during their best spell in the match. However, the pace of the Croatian front men will surely test the Celtic defence in the second leg, with Prosinecki clearly the main danger man. If Celtic are to progress to the Champions' League, it will be a considerable achievement.

Celtic (3-5-2): Gould; Rieper, Stubbs, Boyd; McNamara, Burley, Larsson, Lambert, Blinker, Donnelly, Brattbakk (Jackson, h-t). Substitutes not used: O'Donnell, Hannah, Annoni, McKinlay, Mackay, Kerr (gk).

Croatia Zagreb (4-5-1): Ladic; D Simic, Juric, Tokic, Cvitanovic; Rukavina, Maric (J Simic, 81), Jurcic, Prosinecki, Jelicic (Mujcin, 75); Viduka. Substitutes not used: Maldinic, Savic, Butina (gk), Mikic, Saric.

Referee: J M Garcia Aranda (Spain).