Larsson's strike delivers justice for Celtic

Celtic 1 FC Porto 0
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The Independent Football

Celtic walked a tightrope at Parkhead last night as they were put through the wring by FC Porto before savouring their first Champions' League success.

Henrik Larsson's predatory first half strike separated the sides in a pulsating encounter and delivered some justice after last week's events in Turin. Poor Martin O'Neill's nerves could not take it, the banished manager standing in the VIP area for much of the last five minutes.

The posse of photographers who ignored the players, and the England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, had eyes for only one man. O'Neill's very arrival triggered off their shutters and a cacophony of noise from 60,000 fans as the man they call St Martin underwent his 90 minutes in purgatory.

Amid the thunderous noise which greeted Celtic's first ever Champions' League game at Parkhead, O'Neill must have been encouraged as Celtic put the squeeze on Porto in the opening 10 minutes, with Bobby Petta carving the Portuguese open on the left.

However, the Dutch winger's crosses failed to find their intended target, Chris Sutton, who was being put under the microscope by Eriksson, and gradually Porto rode out the storm.

Indeed, they possessed enough threat of their own on the counter-attack as Capucho galloped down the right and delivered a low cross. Johan Mjallby looked as if he might be turned by the robust Pena in the six-yard box, but Bobo Balde arrived to lash the ball to safety.

The scare was enough to see a hush descend on Parkhead, and it was not until O'Neill's side gradually re-imposed themselves after the half-hour that the optimism began to return.

The cavalier Stilian Petrov led the way, cutting inside and thrashing a right-foot shot which Sergei Ovchinnikov looked none too comfortable dealing with. The Belgian defender Joos Valgaeren then played a neat one-two with Larsson and was only prevented from finishing it by the boot of Jorge Costa at the expense of a corner.

The resulting corner, an inswinger from Petrov, was met by Didier Agathe and just kept out by Ricardo Carvalho on the line. When Petrov and Petta combined at the other corner flag, Mjallby's headed the ball back towards Larsson, who swept in a close range shot which saw Parkhead erupt.

Celtic surged all over Porto in a bid to add to their lead in the early stages of the second half, yet every near miss simply cranked up the emotions of their fans. Larsson and Petta both failed to meet Agathe's superb cross from the right and gradually the visitors began to gain a foothold once more.

Capucho almost cancelled out the advantage in the 57th minute with a searing shot which struck the post.

However, it was the virtuosity of the goalkeeper at the other end, Ovchinnikov, who was central to the drama. The Russian keeper denied Balde just after the hour with a flying leap to keep out the defender's header and then thwarted Agathe, who had risen to glance on Petta's free kick.

Celtic, though, seemed to be running on empty by the final stages and needed vigilance to protect their cherished victory.

Celtic (3-5-2): Douglas; Mjallby, Balde, Valgaeren; Agathe, Lambert, Lennon, Petrov (McNamara 88), Petta (Thompson 68); Sutton, Larsson. Substitutes: Kharine, Sylla, , Hartson, Tebily, Moravcik.

FC Porto: (3-5-2): Ovchinnikov; Jorge Costa, Andrade, Carvalho; Paredes, Costinha (Alenitchev 46), Deco, Ibrarra (Helder 76), M Da Silva (Rubens 46); Capucho, Pena. Substitutes: Santos, Da Costa, Clayton, Roc Da Silva.

Referee: Dick Jol (Netherlands).