Larsson waves goodbye with goals and tears

Celtic 2 Dundee United 1

It was bound to end in tears and it did. Henrik Larsson took his leave of Parkhead yesterday after seven years of sublime service, weeping openly at the unbridled emotion of the occasion.

It was bound to end in tears and it did. Henrik Larsson took his leave of Parkhead yesterday after seven years of sublime service, weeping openly at the unbridled emotion of the occasion.

The talismanic striker inscribed two goals upon his farewell at the ground where he has been worshipped since 1997. But the facade of Scandanavian composure cracked yesterday after the final whistle. He left the pitch in tears and though he returned for another bow, he simply could hold his emotions in check. Later, he also fled a press conference in tears.

Martin O'Neill described the double that Larsson conjured up in the last nine minutes as the "the perfect fairy-tale". The Celtic manager knows it will be a hard task to replace the prolific Swede who has scored 240 times for the club.

Larsson will play in the Scottish Cup final on Saturday at Hampden Park and then heads off to join his country at Euro 2004, uncertain of where he will be playing his club football - though Spain remains a good bet.

Certainly, his scoring CV was enhanced by the impeccable finishing that undid all of Dundee United's good work, especially that of their goalkeeper, Paul Gallacher, who seemed set to defy Larsson. Gallacher had made one remarkable save in the opening 10 minutes to prevent Larsson scoring with a perfect downward header and he then eclipsed that with saves from Stephen Pearson and Jackie McNamara.

In the second half, Celtic's hunger for a goal left them vulnerable at the back and David Marshall had to make a crucial save to block Charlie Miller's shot before Stilian Petrov kept out Collin Samuel's follow-up.

However, Larsson would not be denied. He broke the deadlock in the 81st minute when Alan Thompson flighted over a free-kick for the Swede to power a header into the roof of the net.

Four minutes later, the man who was crowned Europe's top goalscorer in 2001 secured his 39th of this championship season, sweeping Didier Agathe's measured cross past Gallacher with a right-foot shot.

Dundee United responded with a penalty from Mark Wilson, but nothing would take the shine off Larsson's send-off.

Goals: Larsson (81) 1-0, (84) 2-0; Wilson (87 pen) 2-1.

Celtic (4-4-2): Marshall; Agathe, Balde, Varga, McNamara; Petrov, Lennon, Pearson, Thompson (Wallace, 87); Larsson, Sutton. Substitutes not used: McGovern (gk), Lambert, Mjallby, Beattie.

Dundee United (4-4-2): Gallacher; Wilson, Innes, McCracken, Archibald; Kerr, Easton (Holmes, 84), Miller, Robson; Scotland (S Paterson, 90), Samuel (J Paterson, 73). Substitutes not used: Bullock (gk), Duff, J Paterson, S Paterson, G Holmes.

Referee: J Underhill.

Booked: Dundee United: Kerr, Robson.

Man of the match: Larsson.

Attendance: 58,386.

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