Larsson makes more history

Celtic 3 Dunfermline Athletic 1
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The Independent Football

In years to come it will quite simply be known as The Larsson Cup Final. Just as Sir Stanley Matthews inscribed his name upon Wembley half a century ago, so Celtic's talisman embellished his all over Hampden Park yesterday.

The Swede supplied the irresistible script on his farewell to Celtic after seven prolific years by leading the comeback that secured the Scottish Cup for a record 32nd time and gave Martin O'Neill's side the Double.

Dunfermline Athletic had threatened to spoil the party in a pulsating final after Andrei Skerla scored before half-time, but Larsson gave a masterclass in the art of finishing by conjuring up two sublime goals in 13 minutes midway through the second half to take his remarkable haul for Celtic to 242.

He departed the pitch after a personal lap of honour, the Magnificent Seven theme tune playing as he rode off into the sunset. "This is the finish the fans wanted," said Larsson later. "I have had the seven best years of my life here and I've stayed at a club that has grown since the boss arrived. They will find someone else. I'm only one player, the rest of the team will still be here."

It was a massive understatement. Larsson will leave a huge void because his influence is easily as much a part of O'Neill's Celtic as his goals were, as the manager admitted later as he surveyed the sixth trophy won in his four years at Parkhead.

"Henrik is a magician and his goals were terrific, what a way to leave us," said O'Neill. "We will miss him badly, not just in the pitch but in the dressing-room." Poor Dunfermline were left only with the plaudits for their part in a splendid occasion as they embraced their first final in 36 years with gusto that symbolised their adventurous manager, Jimmy Calderwood.

At least the Fife club can console themselves with the fact that they will be in Europe next season and end a three-decade exile when they play in the Uefa Cup, a route guaranteed by Celtic's title success which sealed their passage into the Champions' League.

"I could not criticise my players today," Calderwood said. "They have given everything and to finish fourth in the League and reach the Scottish Cup final is great for this club. Hopefully we will be back in another final soon." Dunfermline's courage was underlined in the first half when they withstood Celtic's barrage to create the best chances.

Steve Crawford shot over after being released by Derek Young after just six minutes and then Craig Brewster was denied by David Marshall, the Celtic goalkeeper, who beat out the striker's shot.

Celtic thought they had broken the deadlock in the 34th minute when Stilian Petrov finished off Larsson's cross but the Swede was punished for the way he turned Aaron Labonte and five minutes later Dunfermline profited form the escape.

Gary Dempsey's corner was met by Skerla, whose looping header was misjudged by Marshall, under pressure, and the ball crept into the net accompanied by wild Fife celebrations.

Celtic were wounded but they came out for the second half with renewed vigour. The pressure they inflicted upon Dunfermline was intense, forcing six corners in the opening nine minutes, with Demspey proving a saviour as he hooked Sutton's effort off the line.

In the 58th minute they gained the reward they deserved - and it was the goal their huge support craved. A ruthless counter attack saw Dunfermline's corner knocked out to Sutton, who looked up and launched a 50-yard pass in the direction of Larsson. The Swede peeled off Labonte and was a picture of composure as he advanced on Derek Stillie and bent an angled right-foot shot beyond the goalkeeper for his 40th goal of the season.

The onslaught thereafter from Celtic simply revealed another gear that few teams possess. The feverish pace saw Petrov cut Dunfermline open only for substitute Lee Bullen to rescue his team.

However, Larsson would not be denied and he turned the contest Celtic's way as he struck again in the 71st minute. Thompson supplied a pass to Larsson's feet and he again turned Labonte before guiding a sublime left-foot finish into the far corner of the net without even looking.

Larsson sped off in the direction of the Celtic fans for one last celebration. But this is far from a one-man team and Petrov drove the final nail into Dunfermline's coffin seven minutes from the end, after Agathe's cross was seized upon by Ross Wallace after it had struck Bullen, the teenager feeding Petrov who conjured up a sidestep and then a measured right-foot finish past Stillie.

Celtic 3
Larsson 58, 71, Petrov 84

Dunfermline Athletic 1
Skerla 40

Half-time 0-1 Attendance: 50,846