Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Di Natale crushes Celtic's Euro dreams

Udinese 1-1 Celtic: Celtic crashed out of the Europa League last night despite a valiant effort against Udinese as they drew 1-1 in their final Group I game in the Stadio Friuli.

The visitors, needing victory in the final Group I fixture to go through into the knockout stages, took the lead in the 29th minute when Gary Hooper tapped in from close range, but veteran striker Antonio di Natale levelled just before half-time.

Skipper Scott Brown made a welcome return from injury for the visitors, but Irish striker Anthony Stokes started on the bench, leaving Hooper as the lone striker.

Celtic were chasing a victory that would leave them in second place behind Atletico Madrid, with anything else favouring the Italian club. The Hoops, though, had won only once in their last 32 times on the road in Europe and never in Italy.

Hooper's lead just short of the hal-hour mark gave the visiting fans plenty of hope, although there was more than a hint of good fortune about the goal. Handanovic punched Samaras' cross off his own defender and the ball fell kindly to the Englishman, who tapped in from a yard out.

In the dying seconds of the first half, however, Cha Du-ri miscued a header, allowing Di Natale to volley past Fraser Forster.

Udinese were more focused after the break and forced Forster into a series of saves from Di Natale and Mauricio Isla. Du-Ri struck the post with a volley from the edge of the box on 74 minutes, but the Hoops were unable to find a winner and had a late penalty shout for handball turned down.

"I was very proud of the team, everyone made a fantastic contribution and with a bit of luck we'd be through," said Celtic boss Neil Lennon. "I thought there was a clear handball at the finish."



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