ALEXANDRO BERNABEI proved to be the unlikely matchwinner as Celtic brought down the curtain on their week-long tour of Japan in Osaka.

The Argentinian defender, a second-half substitute, is hardly a noted goalscorer, but you can’t fault the player’s timing.

The game was heading for a scoreless stalemate with just five minutes to go when he charged forward to knock in the strike that ensured Brendan Rodgers’ side returned to winning form after their 6-4 loss in Yokohama in midweek.

Bernabei’s effort came after a lung-bursting run down the right when he chased his own pass forward. A Gamba defender was slow to react to the danger as his opponent refused to give up the chase.

There was a sloppy passback to substitute keeper Kei Ishikawa who looked cumbersome as he attempted to control the ball. That was all the ambitious Celt needed to close him down, block his clearance and then roll the ball into the empty net.

JOY RODGERS…the Celtic manager is all smiles as Alexndro Bernabei snatches the only goal in Osaka.

The manager, who applauded appreciatively from the touchline, had insisted the matches were all about getting the players up to match fitness and he will be happy with what he has seen from most of his squad.

Daizen Meada had an effort incorrectly ruled out in the seventh minute when the Japanese speedster whipped in a left-wing ball from Reo Hatate.

The referee was quick to disallow the first-time strike for offside, but pictures proved conclusively that the Celt was onside when he made the initial move forward.

Maeda thought he had claimed his fourth goal of the two-game tour after his first-half hat-trick against Yokohama F Marinos in midweek. He knew the goal should have stood as he smiled ruefully and shook his head.

In the 17th minute, there was another flash of menace from the champions when skipper Callum McGregor latched onto a rebound from a Liel Abada right-wing cross.

STRIP STRIP HOORAY…Callum McGregor came so close to scoring.

The midfielder hit the ball perfectly, but, unfortunately, his precision was just off and the ball whistled wide of the upright.

Only moments later, Tomoki Iwata swept in a low ball from James Forrest on the left. The versatile ace hit the ball sweetly from 18 yards and his effort hurtled past the right-hand post with the keeper again scrambling across his line.

David Turnbull then released Abada with a superb pass and the Israeli winger thumped in an inviting cross. Maeda got a touch, but the opposition netminder blocked the close-range effort and then dived on the loose ball before the Hoops forward could react.

Rodgers’ men had come out of the blocks running on this occasion as they continued to take the game to the hosts.

Maeda was then denied by keeper KoseiTani who got managed to turn a whiplash drive onto the woodwork to deny his deadly countryman.

The hosts thought they had broken the barrier when Musashi Suzuki beat the helpless Joe Hart, but he was flagged offside. To be fair, the striker looked onside – just like Maeda before him.

Norwegian midfielder Odin Thiago Holm made his debut in the midst of a blizzard of substitutions by Rodgers as he changed his entire first-half line-up.

GOING…Alexandro Bernabei rounds scrambling keeper Kei Ishikawa as he races in on goal. 

GOING…the netminder is grounded as the Celt prepares to go in for the kill.

GONE…Alexandro Bernabei celebrates as he thumps the ball into the net with the keeper stranded.

In the early moments of the second period, the new Bhoy was teaming up well with Matt O’Riley as the visitors continued to control the encounter.

South Korean striker Oh Hyeon-gyu passed up the opportunity to open the scoring when he missed the target from a good position.

Benji Siegrist, who had replaced Hart, proved his worth with two solid saves with the hosts edging back into the contest.

With 10 minutes to play, there was a scare for the Hoops when Jeabli Issam  thundered a low drive past the Swiss netminder, but the ball thudded against inside of the post and ricocheted to safety.

The winning goal was claimed in the fading moments when Bernabei demonstarted outstanding athleticism when he cleared a ball downfield and charged ahead to get on the end of his own pass.

The Argentinian full-back then knocked the ball past the keeper for the only strike of a fairly entertaining confrontation.

Rodgers and his squad will return to Scotland in the early hours of Tuesday before they prepare for the friendly against Wolves at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin a week today.

FIRST-HALF TEAM: Hart, Iwata, Welsh, Starfelt, Taylor; Turnbull, McGregor, Hatate; Abada, Maeda, Forrest.

SECOND-HALF TEAM: Sigriest, McPherson (sub: Summers 90), Lawal, Scales, Bernabei, Holm, O’Riley, Haksabanovic, Vata, Kyogo, Oh.

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