Celtic and Benfica fought out a tight, chess-like, game in their opening Champions League group stage encounter. Celtic had the best of the opening 15 minutes as Benfica seemed to spooked by the occasion. Kris Commons, in particular, made good on his pre-match promise to make the most of his Champions League stage, but once Benfica settled action inside the penalty boxes was limited.
Emilio Izaguirre picked up an early booking, the result of poor positioning and a mistimed tackle, and thereafter was subject to continual pressing from Benfica as they sought-out a weak point. He was replaced after 65 minutes; part of a change of formation which benefited Celtic.
Neither team had a chance worthy of the name but both had good claims for a penalty. Rodrigo raced after an immaculately times forward ball and collided with the impregnable Fraser Forster. The Italian referee waved play on. Five minutes from time James Forrest at last got space to exploit inside the box but Garay caught him mid-flight. Forrest fell, to no avail.
Kelvin Wilson gave his best performance in a Celtic shirt alongside his initial central defensive partner, Mikael Lustig, then alongside Thomas Rogne, when Lustig retired injured shortly after the hour. As Benfica pressed Wilson and Charlie Mulgrew always tried to hold the ball and make a pass. Benfica were strong on the wings and Adam Matthews returned to his best defensive duties to counter.
Victor Wanyama, who also collected an early booking, struggled with concentration throughout the game but Scott Brown put in a tireless shift alongside him.
The change in formation after 65 minutes, when Gary Hooper replaced Izaguirre, improved Celtic enormously. Hooper used his strength effectively to lead the line, whereas Miku looked a forlorn figure until then. The 4-4-2 Celtic now deployed also gave Forrest space to exploit for the first time.
Wilson and Brown both played very well but Kris Commons was easily man of the match. There seemed no part of the field he was not prepared and able to launch an attempt at goal from. Late in the first half, when Benfica were enjoying their best spell, Commons twice in quick succession used his remarkable understanding of the game by successfully tempting an opponent to foul him. Pressure was released and Celtic gained a territorial advance.
Celtic never looked to be in any real danger of losing a goal and the vocal crowd believed a glimpse of daylight inside the Benfica box could deliver all three points but the opportunity never arrived.Support a Scottish World Champion Boxer: Ricky Burns
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