Celtic reached the last 16 of the Champions League in somewhat fortunate fashion here last night, a 1-0 defeat to the champions, Milan, being rendered irrelevant by Shakhtar Donetsk's 2-1 home reverse to Benfica. The only goal was scored by Filippo Inzaghi, his 63rd in all European competitions breaking Gerd Mller's record.
Milan finished top of Group D, with 13 points while Celtic came second on nine points. Benfica's victory allowed them to jump over Shakhtar into third place and qualify for the Uefa Cup. If the Ukrainians had won they would have taken Celtic's place in the Champions League last 16. As it was, they finished with nothing.
The Celtic manager, Gordon Strachan, was relieved to have advanced despite his side's poor form away from home. He said: "Second year on the trot, with a new bunch of players. We've got a few injuries and a few tired bodies. We must be pleased to get out of that group. I think that could have been the hardest of the groups."
However, Strachan insisted that his side must improve if they are to progress at home and abroad. "No clean sheets. If we want to get better in Europe and in our home league, we must improve that," he said.
The club's chairman, Dr John Reid, said: "It [going through] is a credit to Gordon Strachan's stewardship of this club."
Strachan surprisingly left Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink out of his starting line-up with Scott McDonald named as the lone striker. As expected, Artur Boruc played in goal despite a knee problem with Steven Pressley partnering Stephen McManus at the heart of defence.
The Milan goalkeeper Dida was given the night off by the Italians' coach, Carlo Ancelotti, a diplomatic move, possibly, after the Brazilian's blatant play-acting at Parkhead. Celjko Kalac took Dida's place.
Ancelotti opted to play with Clarence Seedorf and the newly crowned European Footballer of the Year, Kaka, in support of the striker Inzaghi. Ronaldo was unfit with a calf injury. On the half hour, Ancelotti had to replace the injured defender Dario Simic with Kakha Kaladze, the centre-back who has been interesting the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez.
In a desultory first half which suggested that the two teams were happy at the prospect of a draw which would have enabled both to qualify, Jiri Jarosik was the only Celtic player to test Kalac, but his tame effort posed no problem. McManus made a fabulous tackle on Kaka and then Seedorf twice went close before the break.
Scott Brown was booked immediately after the restart for a clumsy tackle on Seedorf and will now miss Celtic's next Champions League game. There was a subtle increase in the pressure coming from Milan with Andrea Pirlo going close with a bending free-kick and Inzaghi unable to turn quickly enough after a fortunate rebound put him in space on the left edge of the six-yard box. Celtic then broke free and McManus's long ball through the defence found Brown in space, but his finish was woefully wide.
Shortly afterwards, following Giuseppe Favalli's cross, a nervous Inzaghi matched that piece of ineptitude with a free header from six yards that somehow managed to pick out the badly positioned Celtic goalkeeper Boruc. After 69 minutes, however, Inzaghi finally achieved the goal that mattered, Cafu's run and cut-back from the byline being expertly marshalled into the net.
Milan should have doubled their lead after 77 minutes, but Boruc made a spectacular and brave double save to deny Christian Brocchi and Inzaghi.
At the other end, as the game entered the final 10 minutes, Brown put in a fierce shot when played in by Vennegoor of Hesselink, but Kalac smartly pushed the ball away for a corner. Then, with full time approaching, Vennegoor of Hesselink produced a poor effort from a header when well positioned.
Kaka then broke away with a brilliant run, outpacing Paul Hartley on the left and dancing past Boruc, but his shot was blocked by the substitute Evander Sno. Then Aiden McGeady hit a fearsome shot just wide at the death. Celtic had lost but had nevertheless won through to the knock-out stages.
Milan (4-3-3): Kalac; Cafu, Bonera, Simic (Kaladze, 29), Favalli; Gattuso, Pirlo (Brocchi, 73), Ambrosini; Seedorf (Gourcuff, 68), Inzaghi, Kaka. Substitutes not used: Fiori (gk), Gilardino, Oddo, Aubameyang.
Celtic (4-5-1): Boruc; Caldwell, McManus, Pressley, O'Dea; Hartley, Jarosik (Zurawski, 77), McGeady, Donati (Sno, 71), S Brown; McDonald (Vennegoor of Hesselink, 65). Substitutes not used: M Brown (gk), Bald, Zurawski, Killen, Caddis.
Referee: T H Ovrebo (Norway).Reuse content