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Celtic 0-3 AC Milan: Hoops crash out of Champions League

By Ronnie Esplin

Celtic crashed out of Europe after a thumping 3-0 defeat by AC Milan in their Champions League Group H clash at Parkhead.

With Ajax beating Barcelona 2-1 at the Amsterdam ArenA, the Scottish champions do not even have the safety net of the Europa League this season.

Brazilian star Kaka put the visitors ahead in the 13th minute when he headed a Valter Birsa corner past Hoops goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

Celtic defender Virgil van Dijk missed a sitter at the start of the second half when he blasted a shot straight at Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati, a minute before Rossoneri defender Cristian Zapata made it 2-0 from close range.

Mario Balotelli, in one of his more productive moods, scored a third with a drive on the hour mark to compound the misery of the home side who were made to pay for missing several chances.

Celtic remain bottom of the pool with three points from five games and their final fixture at the Nou Camp next month will be for pride only.

For what was built up into a do-or-die tie, Lennon was without suspended duo Scott Brown and Nir Biton and he brought in Mikael Lustig, Beram Kayal, James Forrest and Derk Boerrigter.

Joe Ledley, Darnell Fisher and Teemu Pukki dropped to the bench to be joined by Anthony Stokes who missed the Dons game with personal issues.

The Italian side arrived in the east end of Glasgow in some turmoil having won just three of their 13 Serie A matches this season and without a win in seven.

However, their star-studded line-up included Kaka, Balotelli and captain Riccardo Montolivo.

Lennon had warned against reading too much into the poor form of the Rossoneri - a warning which proved to be right.

The home side, captained by Georgios Samaras who was leading the line, had the first chance of the match in the second minute when a Charlie Mulgrew corner was met by Boerrigter but the Dutchman failed to connect properly.

However, the visitors hinted at danger early on when Balotelli drew a shot wide of the target.

Celtic had an even better chance in the ninth minute when Kayal found himself with the ball at his feet in front of goal following a shot from Mulgrew, but the Israeli midfielder hesitated, allowing Zapata to challenge before he skewed his drive wide.

The Hoops looked capable of getting the win they so badly needed but their fans were stunned into silence at Kaka's goal.

Unmarked at the six-yard box when Birsa's corner came over from the right, the former Real Madrid player had the easiest of tasks heading past Forster.

Celtic responded as expected but Milan remained potent.

In the 25th minute Boerrigter's header from a Forrest cross was blocked by red and black shirts moments before Milan broke up the park with purpose, Balotelli finishing the move by firing just over the bar.

A couple of minutes later, Kaka drove a powerful curling drive from 22 yards which beat Forster but just evaded the far post.

Kayal limped off to be replaced by Ledley just on the half-hour mark.

In the 36th minute, after Kris Commons was crowded out at the edge of the Milan penalty area, the ball broke kindly to Mulgrew but his left-footed shot was too weak to bother Abbiati.

Balotelli then had the ball in the net after breaking clear of the Hoops defence but the flag was up early for offside.

The game turned in a minute early in the second period.

In the 47th minute, when Mulgrew's free-kick was blocked by the wall he lobbed the ball into the box to find the unmarked van Dijk but the Dutchman blasted a volley straight at Abbiati.

A minute later the Hoops were two behind and on their way out of Europe.

Birsa's lofted corner from the right was met by substitute Antonio Nocerino, on for Ignazio Abate, and he steered the ball across goal to the back post where Zapata was in perfect position to knock it in from a yard out to deliver a hammer blow to the Hoops.

Celtic looked as if they had got themselves back into the game soon afterwards when Van Dijk headed in a Ledley cross but the offside flag was up.

When Balotelli escaped the Hoops defence in the 60th minute to pick up a Montolivo pass and knock number three past Forster from close range it truly was all over for the Scottish champions.

The Hoops battled on valiantly but James Forrest slid a shot past the post to confirm it was not to be their night.

Stokes replaced Commons but far too late to make an impact with the game fizzling out to a comfortable victory for the Italian side, meaning Celtic's trip to Catalonia will be academic.

Lustig rues defensive lapses

Defender Mikael Lustig bemoaned Celtic's sloppiness at set-pieces as AC Milan were allowed to claim an easy 3-0 Champions League victory in Glasgow that cut short their hosts' European campaign.

Kaka was allowed to nod home from a corner early in the first half at Parkhead while Cristian Zapata was largely unopposed when doubling the Italians' lead from another in-swinger shortly after the break.

Italy striker Mario Balotelli then wrapped up the victory that even denied Celtic a shot at the Europa League with a third goal on the hour mark.

Lustig told Sky Sports 4: "I don't think we've let one goal in from set-pieces this season and now we do it in the most important game of the season.

"It's not good enough.

"We've conceded two or three goals from corners in two years and I don't think it's the formation that's wrong.

"The first goal is a free header from about two or three yards out."

The Swede feels a lack of quality in the Celtic squad is to blame for the fact Neil Lennon's men have scored only two goals in five group-stage games, both strikes arriving in October victory over Ajax.

"We've played five games in the group and scored in just one game so I think it's not good enough," Lustig added.

"We were hoping to get through to the last 16 and if not that then we were hoping to get into the Europa League but it's not so."

Player ratings

By Andy Newport

Celtic

FRASER FORSTER: Questions will be asked of the new England international and why he did not come for Valter Birsa's cross for Kaka's opener. He did not cover himself in glory for the other two goals either. 5/10

MIKAEL LUSTIG: The Hoops' Swedish right-back did a decent job bombing forward but his final ball was rotten. 6

EFE AMBROSE: The defender was up for a physical tussle with Mario Balotelli but was simply shrugged out of the way as the Italy frontman rolled home the third. 5

VIRGIL VAN DIJK: The Dutchman should have had Kaka marked for the opener but wandered off as the Brazilian nodded in the opener. Compounded his gaffe by shooting straight at Christian Abbiati when it was easier to score. When he did find the net, it was ruled off for offside. Booked for foul on Balotelli. 5

EMILIO IZAGUIRRE: Another to pick up a caution for clattering into Balotelli and will now miss the Scottish champions' trip to Barcelona in a fortnight. 6

DERK BOERRIGTER: The former Ajax winger was handed just his fifth start for the Hoops but showed signs of rust when he mishit a decent early chance from Charlie Mulgrew's corner. 6

BERAM KAYAL: Netted against Ajax on his last Champions League outing but lasted just half an hour this time as he limped off injured. Replaced by Joe Ledley. 4

CHARLIE MULGREW: Had a chance to level at 1-0 when he pounced on Riccardo Montolivo's loose pass but could not beat Abbiati. Otherwise tidy. 6

JAMES FORREST: Had Milan left-back Urby Emanuelson on toast as he beat him for fun in the first half but disappeared after the break. Came close with a low strike when his team was already three down. Replaced by Tom Rogic. 6

KRIS COMMONS: Having struggled to break free from De Jong's watch in the early period, his frustration showed as he was booked in the second half for kicking the ball away. Substituted by Anthony Stokes. 5

GEORGIOS SAMARAS: The Greek was preferred to Anthony Stokes in the lone striker role but was ineffectual up against Cristian Zapata. Never stopped battling though. 6

Substitutes:

JOE LEDLEY (for KAYAL, 31): Given an hour but failed to add an extra dimension to the Celtic midfield. 4

ANTHONY STOKES (for COMMONS, 66): Thrown on with Celtic trailing by three but could not turn the match around. 3

TOM ROGIC (for FORREST, 81): On as the game fizzled out. 1

AC Milan

CHRISTIAN ABBIATI: Milan's veteran stopper punched everything that came in from the flanks - catchable or not - but was generally reliable. 6

IGNAZIO ABATE: Dealt reasonably well with Boerrigter but did not add much to the Rossoneri in an attacking sense. Off for Antonio Nocerino. 6

CRISTIAN ZAPATA: Centre-half came up with a crucial last-ditch tackle on Kayal to prevent an early goal for the hosts before prodding home the crucial second. Solid. 8

DANIELE BONERA: A few shaky moments as he tried to bring the ball out of defence but fortunate nothing came from his casualness. 6

URBY EMANUELSON: Struggled to locate Forrest at times in the first half, never mind stop him. The Dutch full-back was much better after the break. 5

ANDREA POLI: An eager worker in midfield who kept things tidy while his more talented colleagues sprayed the ball about. 6

NIGEL DE JONG: Milan's Dutch midfield destroyer did a brilliant job nullifying the threat from Commons in between the lines. Almost followed the Scotland international into the home dressing room at half-time. 7

RICCARDO MONTOLIVO: The Italians' skipper lofted over the free-kick which led to Balotelli's killer third goal. Lucky Mulgrew did not make more of his first-half slip-up, though. 7

VALTER BIRSA: Produced two wicked corner deliveries for Milan's first and second goals. His general play was not bad either. Subbed by Kevin Constant. 7

KAKA: Celtic were well aware of the former World Player of the Year's ability on the ball but they were made to pay for doubting his heading skills as he nodded home the opener. Back to his classy best. Replaced by Robinho. 7

MARIO BALOTELLI: The former Manchester City maverick kept his nose clean with the match officials but proved to be a handful for the home side as he rounded off the scoring after out-muscling Ambrose. 8

Substitutes:

ANTONIO NOCERINO (for ABATE, 48): Only on the pitch for a minute before he set-up Zabata's second. 4

KEVIN CONSTANT (for BIRSA, 73): Thrown on to solidify Milan in the midfield. 3

ROBINHO (for KAKA, 81): Little chance to make an impact. 2

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