Celtic went out of the Champions League to a Midtjylland team that found it difficult to keep the ball and struggled to create chances. What they were was more clinical than Celtic up front and sufficiently more secure at the back. The contrast with our experience last night was stark.
For much of the game there was little between Celtic and AZ Alkmaar. The visitors enjoyed the slight majority of possession, completed more passes, came within inches of opening the scoring and really should have narrowed Celtic’s two goal margin with a shot from six yards.
As we found out to our cost in Denmark, all that counts for nought. Football is about two things: putting the ball in the net and stopping your opponents from doing the same. Celtic’s upgrade between the posts, in defence and attack, since facing Midtylland last month, makes them a potent opponent.
After having a shaky start to both halves, Stephen Welsh made it his mission to win every ball in the air. As AZ tried to find a way back into the game, Stephen’s timing and lift repeatedly blocked their progress. Anthony Ralston appeared to arrive from nowhere to clear decisively inside his own six-yard box, then, in the closing moments, humbled his opponent to win a corner kick. Both defenders performed above expectation.
Yet another European qualifier, yet another goal from James Forrest. His deflected shot tilted the balance in Celtic’s favour. Even before Celtic’s 12th minute opener, Joe Hart demonstrated why Celtic agreed to his spectacular wages by extending a foot to turn a shot against the inside of the post. At the time, it felt like a crucial moment in the tie.
I expected AZ to tire going into the latter stages but with around 20 minutes to go they clearly had the upper hand, pressing Celtic back into a tight defensive formation. Having already introduced Odsonne Edouard, Ange Postecoglou introduced Adam Montgomery and James McCarthy to close the game out.
Not only did this work, but it resulted in a chance that really should have put the tie to bed. Another Ralston rake down the right saw Edouard lunge to head a loose ball that was cleared off the line by a defender, only as far as Montgomery, who also saw his header cleared off the line.
A 3-0 margin would have flattered Celtic but not their new idol. Kyogo Furuhashi’s opening goal could not have been scored by any other player at the club. His speed, flight and control made an already good cross from Tom Rogic into a spectacular goal. Three weeks after his arrival, Kyogo looks like the deal of the decade.