Benfica 2: 1 Celtic
A goal in either half last night was enough for Benfica to leapfrog Celtic in the CL group stages. After the valiant Barca double header performances, this was all just a step too far for Lennys Bhoys. Benfica controlled the game and while Celtic scored from a Sammi header at a corner, other than that they rarely threatened the Benfica keeper.
The game kicked off under heavy rain and the slick surface was perfect for the fast sleek movement of the Portuguese outfit. From the start they took the game to Celtic and duly scored in just under 7 minutes. Celtic failed to clear the ball out on the left and it came across the box for John Ola to step in and strike the ball passed a hopeless Forster.
Celtic took their time to find their way in the match and players like Scott Brown and Victor Wanyama were struggling to get a foothold. Eventually though the Celts did make it up the park and duly equalized on 32 minutes from a standard Celtic CL Set piece. As Charlie Mulgrew swung over a perfect cross, Gary Hooper did a fine job in standing his ground, which just happened to be in front of the Benfica keeper, and this allowed Sammi to head down and home at the back post. 5 European away games and 5 goals..who said Sammi is inconsistent?
Benfica seemed rather confused that a Celtic side which had been chasing red-tinged shadows and constantly under pressure had managed to score and the game lumbered to the half time whistle. The Celtic fans danced and sang within the Estadio Da Luz and knew the club were within 45 minutes of securing Champions League football after Xmas.
Spartaks dumping by Barcelona earlier in the day guaranteed that Celtic would still be playing in Europe come the Spring of 2013. Celtic fans around the Globe prayed that Lenny and his crew could lift the team for one last mammoth effort and see out the game. Sadly it was not to be.
This signs were there before the second half had even began.First Charlie Mulgrew failed to show in the second half, he had played the first half feeling unwell and stayed in the dressing room with Kayal taking his place.
Then on the hour mark the laboured Scott Brown sat on the surface and signalled he could not continue. The impact of Browns hip injury and lack of match fitness were clear for all to see. Kris Commons replaced Brown but at that point in time, Celtic really needed another Wanyama style player to help curb the constant waves of attack coming from Benfica.
It seemed that at some point something had to give and it duly did when centre half Garya volleyed home a knock down to put Benfica ahead and into 2nd place in the CL Group. The initial danger seemed to have been cleared when Fraser Forster punched a cross away but when it was floated back in, one Benfica Centre half headed the ball down to another and Celtic faced defeat.
A final rally with Tony Watt coming on resulted in a few half chances but nothing of real note. A low shot from distance and a hard drive across the box which was screaming for a touch were all the Young Slayer of Barca could offer.
It was too little too late. In truth, the best team won. Benfica were faster, fitter and far more comfortable on the ball. No Complaints. The Learning curve continues for Celtics Management and players. Its all on the Spartak game. We need to get a better result than Benfica get in the Camp Nou, albeit without the suspended Wanyama. If we had been offered this current scenario at the initial Draw then we would have gratefully snapped it up. Its a credit to the side’s performances and progress that we even feel any sense of disappointment after this defeat.
This game in Lisbon could well be a blessing in disguise as it did help highlights the fragility in a talented but tired squad. Celtic looked fatigued and a few players were literally on their last legs ( Scott Brown now out for up to 3 months!). With European football a certainty next Spring, Lenny can push for the purchasing of another defensive minded midfielder while other players get a well deserved and very much needed rest over Xmas. Fringe Players in the SPL games, your time is coming!
ETims MOTM : Kelvin Wilson – had a great game and while he lost his man for the 2nd goal his progress this season has been very impressive.