Juarez winner offers scant comfort for Celtic's early exit
Celtic 2 Sporting Braga 1 (Braga win 4-2 on aggregate)
Celtic tumbled out of the Champions League last night after an early goal for Sporting Braga ensured a comeback by Neil Lennon's side would never be enough. Three down from the first leg in Portugal, victory always looked beyond Celtic but they refused to give in, scoring twice to win on the night and give Lennon some cause for satisfaction.
"Overall I'm delighted with the performance and intensity and all the things you ask for – commitment and passion," the Celtic manager said. "The pace we played at and the passing was very pleasing. But we keep conceding soft goals. I'm learning from it and hopefully the players are learning. I thought we were excellent in the second half."
Lennon gave striker Gary Hooper a competitive debut, the introduction of the recent signing from Scunthorpe being the only change to the team that lost 3-0 in Portugal. Midfielder Ki Sung-yueng made way for Hooper. With Aiden McGeady considering a move to Spartak Moscow – an issue on which Lennon would not elaborate last night – Celtic started with Shaun Maloney and Efrain Juarez out wide.
Celtic exerted some early pressure but it soon dissipated and their task, already tough, grew even more difficult when Braga scored in the 20th minute. Alan was allowed room to cross from the right and Paulo Cesar ran across Cha Du-ri and glanced a header beyond Lukasz Zaluska.
The away goal left Celtic needing five to progress but one was looking unlikely as they struggled to break the visitors down. It took them until the 51st minute to equalise, when Marc-Antoine Fortuné's power won him space on the right and his excellent low cross was bundled in by Hooper.
Celtic went ahead in the 78th minute when Juarez's deft header flashed in following an inswinging cross by Giorgios Samaras. They pushed Braga back for the remainder of the tie but could not threaten again as their Champions League campaign ended at the qualifying stage for the second year running.
Celtic (4-4-2): Zaluska, Cha, Hooiveld, Loovens, Mulgrew (Fortuné, h-t), Juarez, Brown (McCourt, 87), Ledley, Maloney (Murphy, 63), Samaras, Hooper. Substitutes not used Cervi (gk), Ki, Rasmussen, Rogne.
Braga (4-4-2): Felgudiraf, Alberto Rodriguez, Moises, Echiejile, Miguel Garcia, Paulo Cesar, Madrid (Paulao, 84), Leandro Salino (Meyong, 90), Alan, Matheus (Lima, 66), Vandinho. Substitutes not used Artur (gk), Helder Barbosa, Silvio, Guilherme.
Referee I Bebek (Croatia)
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