With a Mountain To Climb, Celtic Forget Their Gear

Bill GardnerContributor IAugust 4, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31:  Manager Neil Lennon of Celtic looks on during the Emirates Cup match between Celtic and Lyon at Emirates Stadium on July 31, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

     Facing a three goal deficit after the first leg of their Champions League Qualifier Glasgow Celtic needed to open tonight’s second leg on the front foot.

     After a back and forth opening few minutes which saw Celtic’s back four again looking slow and unsure on the ball. “Hoops” were hit on the break with a devastating away goal in the 20th minute and Park Head went silent.

      A bad give away in the midfield sent Braga’s Brazilian danger man Alan streaming down the right hand side touch line and without a second thought he launched a 60 meter cross to the far post and right onto the head of Caesar who had made a run from his own side of the pitch. Rewarded for his hard run with what can only be described as the perfect ball, Caesar headed into the net from a meter out.

      Zaluska, the Celtic keeper had failed to challenge the cross and Celtic paid the price for his indecision and the lack of pace and awareness of their central defenders.

     With the away goal Celtic’s mountain to climb became Everest. Celtic now needed 5 goals to advance and receive the huge Champions League payment for making the group stages of Europe’s biggest Club competition.

    As the first half drew to an end Celtic resembled a team from the 1950’s desperately launching long balls into the box, but unlike Celtic of ole they could not win the aerial battles. It was 1-0 on the night and 4-0 on aggregate as the half time whistle blew. 

   As the second half opened Fortune was on for Mulgrew and within 6 minutes Celtic had scored from his hard work, and Lennon’s formation change. Fortune’s driven cross allowed young Gary Hooper to pounce and head home his first Celtic goal, the songs started in the Jock Stein stand as the crowd came alive.  With 51 minutes gone Celtic had taken their first step up the massive mountain.

   With Celtic building momentum in the 60th minute, Shaun Maloney was mauled down at the edge of the box, and had to be subbed out. Lennon brought on another attacking player, Daryl Murphy.

   Maloney’s injury should have resulted in a Celtic free kick, but was waved play on by the Croatian Official, who otherwise had a solid match. 

   Braga, growing nervous at Celtic's growing momentum began to take their foot off the pedal, and started defending in numbers. The small Portuguese side could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  On 68 minutes Greek International Georgios Samaras’ free kick from the edge of the box nearly gave Celtic some additional live.

  With Celtic’s home crowd growing increasingly nervous, Celtic Captain Scott Brown narrowly avoided being sent off for kicking out at Braga players repeatedly.

  With Fortune and now Murphy on, Lennon allowed Celtic to play a more attacking style. Efrain Juarez, Celtic’s first Mexican player looked much better for it. On 75 minutes Celtic finally showed the desire and effort needed to compete in Europe as Juarez beat Braga’s defense and the keeper. Samaras’ cross having found the Mexican and the crowd erupted as Celtic had the lead at 2-1. But still needing another three goals, time was against them.

  As the time wound down, Braga began wasting more and more time, though to be fair they were much the better side over the two legged tie. Braga has pace and skill up top and on the flanks, and a surprisingly difficult and organized defense.

   Braga now was defending in numbers and happy to sit back and kill off the match.  Braga was on the verge of reaching the Champions League and its massive payoff for the first time in club history. In the dying moments Caesar and Alan took the ball to the corner flag and let the air out of the match, Celtic, and the crowd.

    At the final whistle Braga had a comfortable 4-2 aggregate victory in the tie. Alan and Caesar’s combination for the away goal in the 20th minute had been the death blow to Celtic’s Champion’s League dreams for this season, it just took Celtic another hour to die. 

     Hoop’s fans are left watching Braga move on in their place, and Celtic’s backroom staff will be left wondering where they can find a central defender whose feet are not made of lead. The two Dutchmen were absolutely terrible over both legs.

     In the end, along with Lennon’s dubious tactical decisions, and keeper Zaluska's errors in both matches, it was Braga's speed on the counter attack which cost Celtic millions in lost Champions League revenues and another chance at European Glory.