DAIZEN MAEDA’S shocking dismissal was pivotal to Celtic 6-0 nosedive against Atletico Madrid in the Spanish capital last night.
That’s the firm verdict of disappointed Brendan Rodgers as he saw the Japanese speedster red-carded by incompetent Slovenian referee Ivan Kiruzliak in the 22nd minute with the hosts holding a one-goal advantage at the time.
The match official booked Maeda in the first instance for the challenge on Mario Hermoso in what was clearly an accidental collision with both men playing their part in the coming together.
That sparked sickening scenes of the Atletico players chasing after the whistler brandishing imaginary red cards. VAR intervened, the ref had a quick look and that led to the attacker becoming the third Celt banished in this ill-starred Champions League campaign following Gustaf Lagerbielke and Odin Holm against Feyenoord in Rotterdam.
It was an early decisive moment in the confontation and it was open season on Joe Hart after that on an agonising evening for the visitors with Antoine Griezmann adding to his early strike, Alvaro Morata chipping in with a double and Samuel Lino and Saul Niguez contributing to the misery.
A grim-faced Rodgers said: “We started the game well and played with confidence and then the sending-off was a big turning point in the game.
“It was definitely something I feel was not deserved as both players kicked each other’s feet.
“It was really disappointing to lose a player because it is such a pivotal moment for a team like ourselves.
“At 11 v 11, we showed we were competitive, but at 11 v 10 that was an uphill challenge for us.
“I don’t like to comment so much on referees, but I feel like what he saw on the screen was not representative of the actual challenge.
“He comes over and his first image is a still of Daizen’s foot up, so whether you like it or not, the human brain will push you towards a red card. If you see the whole incident you will see both players kicked each other’s feet.”
Reflecting on a performance where not too many of his players came close to passmarks, Rodgers, speaking to the Celtic website, continued: “I’m disappointed with the first two goals and we didn’t deal with the second phase of corners well.
“We go into the second-half and it’s a real uphill challenge against a team that’s going to be looking to win this competition, but the players gave everything and I can’t ask for any more in terms of the effort and commitment.
“You see with the quality we were just hanging on in the end.
“When you think of the goals they were shooting them in from all angles, so they scored some quality goals and they had some luck, as well. Everything that probably could have gone against us did so.”
The Hoops gaffer, who will now have to pick up his troops for the visit of Aberdeen on Sunday, added: “We have to look at where we can be better, even with 11 v 10.
“But I do respect the challenge of playing against a team of this quality and experience that it is a really hard shift.
“They gave everything, but we couldn’t find any quality or rhythm at all, especially when they scored the second goal.”