TWO crazy refereeing decisions within a minute from card-happy referee Ivan Kruzliak wrecked Celtic’s Euro dream.
Sloppy Slovakian Kruzliak refused to award the Hoops an obvious corner-kick in the 35th minute despite the appeals from Stefan Johansen.
Inter full-back Davide Santon was clearly first to the ball to hoof it out of play.
Within moments, the match official was flashing a second yellow card at Virgil Van Djk to banish him after a challenge on Mauro Icardi.
The Inter Milan player disgracefully waved an imaginary card at the referee who, unfortunately, reached for his pocket to send off the Dutchman leaving the Hoops to play almost an hour at the San Siro a man down.
Van Dijk had earlier been booked for a tackle on Rodrigo Palacio, a player who looked as though he would happily topple over in a stiff breeze.
The central defender clearly and cleanly won the ball and Kruzliak was hasty in booking him. Celtic’s Europa League quest started to go downhill at that point.
Making matters even worse was the fact that the only goal of the game was scored by Fredy Guarin who should have been ordered off for smashing an elbow into Johansen’s face in the 78th minute. He escaped with a booking when a straight red would have been much more appropriate.
And the dodgy referee was suspect as early as the 14th minute when Santon floored Stuart Armstrong in the box. It looked a stick-on penalty-kick, but the Slovakian amazed everyone in the ground – including the Inter players and supporters – by waving play on.
Celtic, in fact, had the first opportunity in the seventh minute when Gary Mackay-Steven took an angled pass from Emilio Izaguirre and stepped past his marker only to shoot against the legs of the advancing Juan Pablo Carrizo.
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Inter moved to take advantage and came close just before as the break when Jason Denayer threw himself in front of a Xherdan Shaqiri shot and the heroic Craig Gordon blocked the rebound from Danilo D’Ambrosio.
Ronny Deila replaced the lively Mackay-Steven with Efe Ambrose to plug the hole in the heart of the rearguard in the sbsence of Van Dijk. And it has to be said that Efe Ambrose had a fine match once again, following on from his impressive performance at the weekend.
Gordon had to scramble to his left to push away a low curling low drive from Hernanes and he then thwarted Icardi from close range as he latched on to a reverse pass from Guarin.
Deila threw on James Forrest for John Guidetti, but it hardly proved to be inspired with the substitute looking far too lightweight to lead the attack.
Kris Commons almost made an impact two minutes after coming off the bench to replace Stuart Armstrong when he forced Carrizo to parry his dipping shot from 35 yards.
But Celtic’s resolve was broken two minutes from time when Inter struck on the counter-attack and the fortunate Guarin crashed an unstoppable 25-yard drive high into the net past the helpless Gordon in the 88th minute.
Commons was booked after the final whistle for telling the referee exactly what he thought of his performance while Gordon, Izaguirre, Adam Matthews and Nir Bitton were also cautioned. Gordon was booked for time-wasting as he rushed to take a goal kick.
In the end, it was a heroic failure from Deila’s team and a huge flop for the match officials. Ten against 11 was difficult enough, but 10 against 12 proved to be an impossible task.
Finally a word on James Forrest, who replaced Guidetti as the loan striker in the second half. Forrest was the only Celt not to impress tonight and while he has pace to burn he seems reluctant to use it. Unless there is a remarkable improvement in his game soon then his time as a Celtic player could be coming to an end. He has had plenty of chances to prove himself worthy of the jersey.
TEAM: Gordon; Matthews, Denayer, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Mackay-Steven (sub: Ambrose 39), Johansen, Armstrong (sub: Commons 79); Guidetti (sub: Forrest 58).