FC COPENHAGEN 1 CELTIC 1
CELTIC somehow turned a stroll into a struggle at the Parken Stadium tonight – and their cause wasn’t helped by the controversial intrusion of the dreaded VAR.
Neil Lennon’s men looked to be easing towards a second leg in Glasgow next week as they controlled the first-half against the Danes.
However, there was a remarkable transformation after the interval as the Hoops’ opponents came out breathing fire and throwing themselves into challenges as they fought for everything in an effort to turn the tie around.
And they almost got the goal they required when they were awarded a penalty-kick in the 78th minute with the game tied at 1-1.
Trust Celtic to be the first Scottish club to be on the receiving end of a bizarre VAR decision when a penalty-kick was awarded for an unintentional hand ball from Ryan Christie, who also received a booking that will keep him sidelined for the return.
And trust Fraser Forster to become a hero once again with a brilliant diving save to his right to push Jens Stage’s spot-kick onto his right-hand post and the ball was smuggled to safety,
In the end, it became a tightrope job with no safety net in sight, but the Hoops are now in a marvellous position with Odsonne Edouard’s away goal as the Danes face an uphill task at Parkhead in the second instalment.
HAIL THE HERO…Fraser Forster dives to his right to divert Jens Stage’s penalty-kick to safety.
Celtic came so close to a sensational start to the game with a goal in 25 SECONDS!
The Hoops kicked off and the ball was worked around before Christie slipped a pass in front of Edouard making an intelligent run in between defenders. The French ace struck an angled shot at goal, but outrushing keeper Karl-Johan Johnsson managed to block the effort.
The ball rebounded to the striker who tried again, but on this occasion a defender deflected his attempt and the ball then came off Edouard and bounced harmlessly past the post for a goal-kick.
Lennon’s men had started in full throttle and in the fourth minute there was another chance that should have been put away.
James Forrest, starting on the left, sent Edouard scampering through, but again his finishing shot lacked precision and Johnsson managed to divert the shot.
It bounced to Olivier Ntcham who directed it back in direction of the net, but, amazingly, the keeper got back to his feet to once again repel the raid.
A slack moment from Kristoffer Ajer allowed veteran Dame N’Doye an opening, but the Hoops survived.
In the 14th minute, the visitors claimed a well-deserved opener – and this time Edouard made no mistake.
Christopher Jullien, who was immense throughout, got the move in motion with a smart ball out to Christie on the right.
He carried the threat towards the Danes’ penalty area before slipping a ball inside to Callum McGregor who intelligently switched it in front of Edouard who had found a pocket of space in the penalty area.
This time he elected to clip the ball over the advancing keeper and there was little the exposed Johnsson could do on this occasion as the effort sailed into the far corner.
DOUBLE TAKE..Odsonne Edouard remains calm in Copenhagen as he clips in the Celtic goal with keeper Karl-Johan Johnsson helpless – no matter which way you look at it!
It was blustery and wet in the Parken Stadium, but Celtic were shaping up to show they had no intention of being blown off course.
There was a half-hearted appeal for a penalty-kick when Edouard was bowled over by Victor Nelsson as he moved onto a Forrest pass, but Russian referee Serge Karasev wasn’t interested.
The game was held up for four minutes following a sickening clash of heads between Jullien and N’Doye, but, thankfully, both recovered after treatment.
In the 23rd minute, McGregor sent Forrest racing down the left and he cut in before firing a right-foot drive at goal, but it whipped just wide of the target.
Everything looked good for the Hoops at the interval, but credit must be given to the Danes for a spirited second-half where they upped the pace considerably.
FOCUSED…Neil Lennon looks concerned during a second-half transformation.
Seven minutes after the interval, they struck the equaliser and Ntcham was the culprit for giving away cheap possession inside his own half.
Two passes later the ball was in front of N’Doye with Ajer and Hayes both slow to react. The veteran frontman, who celebrates his 35th birthday tomorrow, left Forster helpless with an angled 12-yard shot that ricocheted into the net off the far upright.
McGregor, unusually for such a normally composed player, took a rush of blood to the head in the 58th minute to blow the chance of putting the Hoops ahead again. After some slick movement around the halfway line, he found himself racing clear with Edouard free on his left and Christie making up ground on the other flank.
It looked simple to roll the ball in front of the unmarked Frenchman, but the Scotland international ignored his team-mate. His thought process was awful and his execution was just as wretched as he decided to have a pop at goal himself from just outside the box and blazed wildly over the bar. It was an atrocious miss.
Mohamed Elyounoussi was introduced on the hour mark for Ntcham who was having a night when very little was going right.
In the 61st minute, a sweeping right-wing cross from Christie almost found the far post with Johnsson scrambling across his line.
GAME OVER…skipper Scott Brown is forced to come off near the end.
Ten minutes later, some eye-atching lead-up play on the left between Christie and Hayes saw the Irishman set up Edouard with an opportunity at the near post, but the striker’s quickfire attempt was blocked by the keeper’s right foot.
Skipper Scott Brown, who had been booked earlier, limped off in the 73rd minute with Nir Bitton taking his place. Shortly afterwards, Jozo Simunovic came on for Frimpong as Lennon shored up his central defence.
Then came the flashpoint moment when the Danes were gifted a spot-kick courtesy of VAR.
Thankfully, Forster dived to the occasion and a place in the last 16 is now only 90 minutes away.
The last word came from the Danish keeper who had kept his side in the contest with several excellent saves. Forrest drove one in seven minutes from the end, but the last line of defence was alert once again to deny the Hoops attacker.
We can only hope he is just as busy in Glasgow next week – with his save ratio not quite so impressive.
TEAM: Forster; Frimpong (sub: Simunovic 83), Jullien, Ajer, Hayes; Brown (sub: Bitton 73), McGregor; Forrest, Ntcham (sub: Elyounoussi 60), Christie; Edouard.