BRENDAN RODGERS was all smiles as he praised the stamina and determination of Alexandro Bernabei after the defender’s extraordinary goal as Celtic overcame Gamba Osaka in their final game of the Japan tour.
The Argentinian full-back combined the woeful with the wonderful to unlock the hosts’ rearguard with only five minutes to go and the encounter locked in a scoreless stalemate.
Bernabei, who arrived at Parkhead a year ago in a £3.75million switch from top-flight Lanus, mishit a pass into space on the right wing.
There were no team-mates in sight, so the Hoops star decided to chase his own ball in what looked like a forlorn effort with an opposition defender moving onto the misplaced pass.
TRUE GRIT…Alexandro Bernabei is about to be rewarded for his persistence as he prepares to score the only goal of the game against Gamba Osaka.
Bernabei didn’t relent, though, as he continued his surge forward and the rival was sloppy with a backpass to his keeper.
The netminder couldn’t sort out his feet in time and the determined South American blocked his clearance before rolling the ball into the inviting net.
Rodgers grinned broadly on the touchline as he applauded the never-say-die spirit of his player and said afterwards: “Well, it’s great you can make a pass like that and it is so bad it ended up in a goal.
“Massive credit to him. He’s played a great ball out in Portugal with the outside of his foot and we got a goal. He tried a similar thing tonight and kicked the ground.
“I always say you played the last pass and it wasn’t so good, but kept going and got his reward. It was great for the supporters to feel a goal in the stadium.”
PICK IT OUT…Alexandro Bernabei slams home the winner.
Overall, the returning gaffer declared himself more than satisfied as he continued: “It was a really good game for us and I thought our level stepped up again.
“In the first-half, we had some really good passages of play and moments. We could have scored three or four goals at least, but their keeper made some great saves.
“I am really pleased. In the second-half, we were much more aggressive after the water break and we ended up getting a goal late on, so it was a really good exercise for us with some really good bits of play.
“It’s always nice in pre-season to have that mentality to not concede and in each game we’re progressing which is great.
“I said to them at the beginning of the season that you can never underestimate what heart gives you and as a team and an individual player you need to have heart.
“That’s something that I can’t give them and they have to have that within and we saw that in the second-half.
GIGGLES IN JAPAN…Brendan Rodgers enjoys Alexandro Bernabei’s remarkable goal.
“At times, the ball was coming into the box and Liam Scales and Bosun Lawal were making blocks, defending, and for some, it’s not their natural game, but you have to do it.
“I was really pleased with that aspect where you have to defend because when you go away from home you don’t have it all your own way.
“You have to deal with it and we did deal with it well.”
Rodgers also took the opportunity to acclaim Celtic’s travelling support and, speaking Celtic TV, continued: “Twenty-odd years ago you would never have anticipated coming over to Japan and seeing so many shirts.
“Coming out here, it’s an amazing country with a huge population, but to see so many Celtic supporters is incredible.
“I know some have travelled, but you also see the locals and our Japanese players have created an interest.
“That’s what you want, to take the club all around the world and it’s the type of club that Celtic is, it’s a wonderful institution and the fan base is only growing.
THE THINKER…Brendan Rodgers gives his overall view of Celtic’s two-game tour of Japan.
“It’s been a great trip and we still have a couple of days to go and we have more hard work to do before we get back and I think the cooler temperatures will help speed up the intensity.”
Rodgers is now preparing for Dublin on Saturday as the Hoops, who are due back in Scotland on Tuesday morning, face Wolves at the Aviva Stadium.
The Hoops gaffer added: “Having worked against Wolves in the last few years in the Premier League, I know how good their squad is with a top-class manager.
“For us going back to Ireland is special and to be in Dublin is great. We will get back home hopefully safe and get ourselves over there and it’s a great game for us.”