Larsson doubles up to stifle Celtic's opening-day jitters

Celtic 2 Dunfermline 1

The Far East, or the east end of Glasgow, the location does not matter to Henrik Larsson. The prolific Swede did yesterday what he does best and Celtic are now off in pursuit of a third successive Scottish Premier League title.

Barely had Larsson got back from the beach after his World Cup exploits than he was contributing two sublime goals which secured a valuable opening-day win for Martin O'Neill's side.

Before the game, Celtic went through the formalities of raising the League flag – the ceremony which provides tangible proof of what the champions are about to defend – but O'Neill's men seemed to have their gaze fixed firmly in front of them, rather than to the sky.

Indeed a measure of how much O'Neill's players want to win a third title came when none of the new signings, Magnus Hedman, David Fernandez and Ulrik Laursen, were selected. Laursen sat in the stand while the other pair had to be content with the bench, alongside John Hartson, making a £10million trio of buys kept on ice.

Hartson must have wondered if he would get back in the team as he watched Chris Sutton and Larsson dovetail so incisively in the first half.

Larsson's low curling cross picked out Sutton after just three minutes, but the former Chelsea striker's hook shot was inches wide. Larsson then brought a fine double save from goalkeeper Marco Ruitenbeek, who beat away a right-foot shot, then diverted another for a corner.

Dunfermline stemmed the tide, limiting Larsson to an off-target shot after Sutton's knockdown, but you cannot subdue the Swede for long.

He broke the deadlock four minutes before the interval with a replica of his World Cup goal against Senegal, peeling away from Andrius Skerla to meet Bobby Petta's corner and guide a header beyond Ruitenbeek.

Celtic's mission to kill off Dunfermline was almost complete by the hour, when Petta went on a mesmeric run, only to see Ruitenbeek palm his shot clear, but Larsson would not be denied and doubled the lead after 66 minutes.

Stilian Petrov's drive in midfield opened up Dunfermline and Larsson pounced when advantage was played after the Bulgarian was fouled, cutting to his left before chipping Ruitenbeek on the run.

Celtic Park rose to acclaim its hero in a manner that is now as well choreographed as the Mexican wave, but Dunfermline's next step was not in the script.

Jimmy Calderwood's team reduced the deficit in the 74th minute when substitute Gary Dempsey, who had only just stepped on to the pitch, got in behind Johan Mjallby to lob goalkeeper Robert Douglas – but the champions clung on for victory.

Celtic 2
Larsson 41, 66

Dunfermline 1
Dempsey 74

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 57,415

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