Football: Larsson breaks Hearts

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The Independent Online
Celtic 3

Larsson 21, 24, pen 66

Heart of Midlothian 0

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 59,815

THE DROP in profits reported by Celtic on Friday may have brought a frown from their investors, but Henrik Larsson's stock continues to rise. With the game being beamed live to Scandinavia, Sweden's player of the year could not have chosen a better time to hit his second hat- trick of the season.

Interest in Larsson is now circulating around Europe. Celtic's fans, however, would revolt if the club were even to think about cashing in on their 24-goal striker after this display.

Meanwhile, a season that promised so much for Hearts has delivered only misery. The Edinburgh club have never emulated last year's title challenge, and lost their grip on the Scottish Cup a fortnight ago.

Their last victory came eight games ago, ironically, against Celtic. However, any hopes of repeating this were removed within the opening 25 minutes as Celtic's exuberance tore them apart. Hearts were soon broken by Larsson.

The dreadlocked Swede is as nimble as he is forceful, and he combined both characteristics in the 21st minute as he leapt with Steven Pressley for Tom Boyd's long ball. The Hearts defender was brushed aside in the jump and could only watch as Larsson regained his balance quickest, controlled the ball with his thigh, and strode on before driving a left foot shot past Roddy McKenzie.

Three minutes later, Larsson's leap was unmatched by the Hearts defence to allow the Celtic forward to finish off Moravcik's viciously in-swinging corner with a header into the roof of the net.

Celtic slackened their pace in the second half, yet opportunities continued to appear. Paul Lambert's drive from the edge of the box threatened McKenzie's goal, and then Stephane Mahe squandered Larsson's subtle creation.

Missing is a rare crime for Larsson and he underlined that in the 66th minute when completing his hat-trick from the penalty spot. The Swede's backheel had allowed O'Donnell to burst through into the box, only for the midfielder to be chopped down by Gary Naysmith. Larsson stepped up and slammed his penalty straight down the middle to kill off a bewildered Hearts.