CELTIC 0 INTER MILAN 2
FORGET the result – Brendan Rodgers would have been more than delighted with the work of his Celtic fringe players against the Italians in Limerick tonight.
He gave outings to the likes of Leo Fasan, Kristoffer Ajer, Jamie McCart, Liam Henderson and Ryan Christie while re-introducing Dedryck Boyata for his first 45 minutes after injury forced the Belgian to sit out the previous games of a fledgling campaign.
Sixteen-year-old striker Jack Aitchison was also brought on for a tiring Nadir Ciftci, a surprise captain for the night, for the remaining 14 minutes of the International Champions Cup confrontation.
The Celtic manager got it right by resting his main players before the crucial Champions League qualifier against the Israelis of Hapoel Be’er Sheva at Parkhead on Wednesday.
The curse of the corner-kick undid all the Celtic youngsters’ good work when the Italians scored with the last touch of the first-half.
It was heading for a goalless stalemate when Inter forced a setplay on the left. Ivan Perisic, who had been involved with some feisty challenges with Henderson through the opening 45 minutes, curled it in and the ball was knocked over to the back post with a neat flick by a team-mate.
Keeper Fasan was caught out of position and Saidy Janko was slow to react as Brazilian Eder snapped up the opportunity to nod in from practically under the crossbar.
That brought down the curtain on an intriguing first-half where McCart, a useful-looking left-sided central defender, played well while Norwegian teenager Ajer was handed a roving commission in front of the back lot.
Fasan was given the opportunity to show his boss what he could do and the 22-year-old Italian didn’t disappoint.
He made a wonderful save in only three minutes to prevent the Italians taking the lead. The new-look Hoops rearguard hadn’t a chance to settle when an opportunity fell to the unguarded Everi Banega who thumped the ball goalwards.
Fasan’s reactions were lightning-swift as he dived to his right to fist the ball over the bar.
Boyata clipped the Inter bar after a superb crossfield cross from Emilio Izaguirre, but he had strayed just offside and it wouldn’t have counted.
Two minutes later, the former Manchester City player was negligent in his defnsive duties and Fasan was forced to make another excellent stop from Perisic.
There was some first-class exchange play between Ciftci and Christie to allow the Highlander a shooting chance from the edge of the box, but he fluffed his final effort and the keeper flopped on the ball.
In the 24th minute, Stefan Johansen booted clear off the line after another left-wing corner-kick had been nodded on with Fasan helpless. Rodgers didn’t look too impressed with the covering from his players at another deadball situation.
However, Celtic should have taken the lead just before the half-hour mark after some remarkable link-up play with McCart, Izaguirre, Christie and Ciftci all involved to set up the ideal opportunity for Stuart Armstrong.
But, with the only the keeper to beat from eight yards, the midfielder lost his composure at the crucial moment and blasted the ball against the legs of his opponent. He should have burst the net – and he knew it.
Efe Ambrose replaced the tiring Boyata at the restart and the Nigerian had a superb chance to snatch the leveller in the 54th minute, but blew the opportunity.
Izaguirre picked him out at the back post with an intelligent left-foot cross, but the erratic defender headed well wide of target.
Five minutes later, Celtic were right out of luck when an acrobatic effort from Ciftci smacked off the crossbar.
Christie and Armstrong combined with the former Dundee United midfielder sending over a neat cross to the Turkish frontman on the edge of the box. He took to the air and swivelled to get his left foot to the ball to send a remarkable effort swirling high over the outstretched arms of the keeper.
However, his expectation of a goal was ended when the ball clattered off the woodwork and rebounded to safety.
In the 70th minute, the game was all over as a contest when Inter claimed a second goal in a classic breakaway that caught Izaguirre up the pitch and McCart caught in no-man’s land.
Daniel Candreva sneaked in on the blindside on the right, enticed Fasan from his line and deftly flicked the ball over his head and into the vacant net.
So, Celtic’s record in the tournament showed two defeats to Inter and Barcelona and a draw against Leicester City.
And none of which will matter a jot if Rodgers can guide the Hoops into the Champions League group stages, starting with a first leg triumph on Wednesday.
TEAM: Fasan; Janko, Boyata (sub: Ambrose 46), Ajer, McCart, Izaguirre; Henderson, Johansen, Armstrong; Ciftci (sub: Aitchison 76), Christie.