Braga beating leaves Celtic with tough task
Braga 3 Celtic 0
Celtic are on the brink of crashing out of this season's Champions League after gifting Braga a 3-0 win in last night's third qualifying round first leg.
A controversial first-half penalty from Alan – awarded after Ki Sung-Yeung was adjudged to have handled – a debut goal from Uwa Elderson Echiejile, and a stunning free-kick from substitute Matheus ensured the Hoops' miserable European away record continued under Neil Lennon.
Celtic failed to muster a single shot on target in sweltering conditions, with their opponents comfortably holding sway in what was both sides' first competitive match of the season. But Lennon struck a defiant note. "Some people may think the tie is over; we don't," he declared. "We've got a good record at home, we've been in this position before and we'll just have to go and be at our very best next week."
Aiden McGeady was not in the Celtic squad, fuelling speculation his Parkhead career could be nearing an end, although Lennon claimed afterwards that his absence was purely down to fitness issues. "He was complaining of a chronic back injury," he said. "Having spoken to the medical team, with the lack of training and the lack of game time he's had, I thought it best not to risk him. Hopefully, we'll have him for the second leg."
Lennon handed four players their competitive debuts for what was his first European game in charge, with summer signings Joe Ledley, Charlie Mulgrew, Efrain Juarez and Cha Du-Ri all in the starting XI.
There was no real goalmouth action until the 17th minute, when Shaun Maloney's cross was acrobatically cleared by Moises. Braga broke up the other end and Lukasz Zaluska spilled a Paulo Cesar shot he should have held before Andres Madrid blazed his follow-up over from 20 yards. Then, in the 25th minute, the hosts were awarded a controversial penalty when Ki was adjudged to have handled Miguel Garcia's cross. Alan fired the spot-kick into the roof of the net to put Braga ahead. The already-vocal home support was now bouncing – literally – while the small band of travelling fans were left to contemplate yet another reminder of Celtic's miserable European away record.
Captain Scott Brown was flagged offside attempting to volley Mulgrew's back-post cross but it was Braga who were getting closer to legally getting in behind their opponents.
Things did not get any better for the Scots after the break and there was no legislating for the appalling defending that gifted Braga their second goal 15 minutes from time, Matheus' corner missed by a host of players before Elderson bundled the ball home. Lennon threw on Forrest for the disappointing Juarez knowing an away goal would change the whole complexion of the tie.
Charlie Mulgrew sent a free-kick wide which Mario Felgueiras had covered before Matheus showed him how it should be done. The substitute stepped up after a foul three minutes from time and blasted a shot into the top corner. Salino became the only Braga player booked in stoppage-time and Alan was withdrawn for Helder Barbosa as the home fans celebrated what looks an easy passage into the next round.
Braga (4-4-2): Felgudiraf; Miguel Garcia, Alberto Rodriguez, Moises, Echiejile; Madrid, Vandinho, Leandro Salino, Alan (Barbosa, 90); Paulo Cesar, Lima (Matheus, 66). Substitutes not used Artur, Helder Keita, Meyong, Silvio, Anieal.
Celtic (4-4-2): Zaluska; Juarez (Forrest, 79), Hooiveld, Loovens, Cha; Mulgrew, Brown, Ledley, Ki; Samaras, Maloney (Murphy, 70). Substitutes not used Cervi, Fortune, Crosas, McCourt, Rogne.
Referee S Gumienny (Belgium)