Larsson's brace gives Celtic edge

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The Independent Football

The Swedish striker Henrik Larsson proved again to be the man for the big occasion with a superb double against HJK Helsinki here last night to give Celtic a comfortable lead to take to Finland in a fortnight's time.

The Swedish striker Henrik Larsson proved again to be the man for the big occasion with a superb double against HJK Helsinki here last night to give Celtic a comfortable lead to take to Finland in a fortnight's time.

The home side were far from their best, but Larsson's quality again came to the surface to take his season tally to 10 in nine games. The result also gave manager Martin O'Neill his 10th straight victory, but he would not have been happy with some of his side's play as the Finnish outfit could have gone home with a vital away goal.

Celtic almost suffered the worst possible start after just eight minutes. The HJK striker Rafael Pires Vieira was given room to cut into the box and produce a shot which Celtic's goalkeeper Jonathan Gould saved low to his right.

Celtic were spurred into action and in the 12th minute Stéphane Mahé crossed for Chris Sutton, but the striker headed wide. A minute later Joos Valgaeren rose to meet Lubomir Moravcik's free-kick, but headed just over the bar.

But Celtic were not to be denied for long, with Larsson heading home from Jackie McNamara's cross in the 14th minute. In the 26th minute Moravcik found Sutton on the edge of the box and the Englishman threaded the ball through to the Swede, who coolly drew the goalkeeper Jani Viander before lifting it over him to claim his second goal.

Larsson went looking for his hat-trick in the 43rd minute when Sutton won a free-kick just outside the area after a foul from Ville Nylund. The Swede stepped up but curled a right-foot shot over the bar. The Finnish side were more positive after the break, but their quest for an away goal was in vain.

Celtic: Gould; Mjallby, Boyd, Valgaeren, McNamara, Lambert, Petrov, Moravcik (Berkovic, 78), Mahé (Healy, 52), Larsson, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Kerr (gk), Burchill, Riseth, Rafael, Miller.

HJK Helsinki: Viander, Turpeinen, Nylund, Nyeremenko (Haarala, 81), Kallio, Saarinen, Heikkinen, Hakanpää, Kuivasto, Vieira (Moraes, 78), Yla-Jussila (Paulus, 60). Substitutes not used: Wallen, Kokkonen, Kunnas, Kopteff.

Referee: D Drabek (Austria).

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