Cristiano Ronaldo News

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Report: Celtic 1 United 0

21/11/2006 21:30, Report by Gemma Thompson in Glasgow

United need a point from their final group match against Benfica after losing 1-0 in dramatic fashion at Celtic Park.

A stunning free-kick from Shunsuke Nakamura in the 80th minute sealed a shock victory for the Bhoys and secured them a place in the final 16, ahead of the Reds. To rub it in, United missed a golden opportunity to salvage the situation when Louis Saha had his last-minute penalty brilliantly saved by Celtic's Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

Saha spearheaded arguably Sir Alex Ferguson's strongest eleven - the only change to the side that had tasted victory in their last four league games saw Gabriel Heinze replace Patrice Evra at left-back.

Celtic Park was a cauldron of noise for the first ever competitive visit by United. There was of course the customary rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone which, for obvious reasons, did not go down well with the travelling Reds. But it was the away fans who had more to cheer about early on as United completely dominated the opening exchanges.

Having missed the chance to seal qualification in their last match earlier this month when they slipped up in Copenhagen, the Reds set about their task with great purpose and vigour and gave Celtic a lesson in the art of keep-ball.

The movement of United’s front four - Cristiano Ronaldo, Louis Saha, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs - caused Celtic all kinds of problems, but in truth the home side did a pretty good job of making things uncomfortable for themselves. Wasteful in possession, their play was littered with mistakes. The first major error was committed after just four minutes by Bobo Balde, making his first appearance in Europe for Celtic this season. His failure to control the ball let in Saha but the striker's low shot was straight at Boruc.

United’s next sight of goal came four minutes later. A superb floated ball from Rooney to the far post was met by the onrushing Gary Neville but his looping header dropped wide.

Much to the frustration of their passionate fans, Celtic continued to look disjointed and shaky at the back and were completely void of attacking ideas, prompting the chant of ‘Are you Rangers in disguise?!’ from United’s travelling contingent who were in great voice throughout the 90 minutes.

The Reds looked dangerous every time they came forward although the final ball was disappointing at times. Giggs was unlucky in the 18th minute when he marginally failed to connect with Paul Scholes’ excellent lofted pass.

Giggs was involved again on the half hour. Preparing to swing in a corner from the right, he spotted Wayne Rooney on the edge of the area in acres of space. The England striker’s subsequent right-footed volley flew just wide of Boruc’s right-hand post.

The best chance of the half arrived eight minutes from the break and again it came about after a Celtic mistake. Balde tried juggling the ball on his chest but ended up deflecting the ball through to Ronaldo and in turn gave the Portuguese winger a clear run on goal. However, Balde recovered brilliantly and somehow managed to get in an excellent last ditch tackle on the Reds’ winger.

Celtic’s first real opening of the game came a minute later. Gabriel Heinze's mistimed jump allowed Maciej Zurawski in down the right wing. His swerving cross was headed towards goal by Thomas Gravesen but fortunately the ball flew wide.

After an awful first period, the Celtic players came flying out of traps after the restart, inspired by the introduction of half-time substitutes Jiri Jarosik and Shaun Maloney and - no doubt - a Ferguson-esque hairdryer blast from Gordon Strachan.

A poor clearance from Edwin van der Sar saw the ball drop to Gravesen 25 yards out three minutes after the break. But his measured effort was collected by the Dutch stopper who managed to get back into position just in time.

At the other end, Celtic were still struggling to cope with United’s attacking threat. Saha powered a header just wide from a Giggs corner and Rooney blasted a blistering effort just over Boruc’s crossbar.

Just prior to that, Shunsuke Nakamura failed to connect properly with a shot from the edge of the box. However, he would not be denied ten minutes from time after Jarosik had been upended by Vidic, some 30 yards or more from goal. The Japanese midfielder sized up the setpiece and unleashed a sublime dead-ball strike similar - but superior - to the one he buried at Old Trafford back in September.

United were stunned by the sucker punch but they were given a life-line two minutes from time when Spanish referee Mejuto Gonzalez awarded the Reds a penalty, spotting a handball by substitute Maloney in the wall set up to defend a Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick.

Louis Saha stepped up to take the spot-kick but Celtic Park erupted for a second time as Boruc dived to his right and parried it clear. Celtic held out in the chaotic closing moments to secure a place in the knockout stages of the competition for the first time.

For United it was another European away night to forget. Now they have another nailbiting match with Benfica to endure - thankfully at home.

Team Line-ups

Celtic: Boruc; Telfer, Balde, McManus, Naylor; Nakamura (Miller, 85), Gravesen, Lennon (c), Sno (Maloney, 46); Vennegoor, Zurawski (Jarosik, 46)
Subs not used: Marshall, Wilson, McGeady, O’Dea.

United: Van der Sar; Neville (c), Ferdinand, Vidic, Heinze (Evra, 87); Ronaldo, Carrick (O'Shea, 87), Scholes, Giggs; Rooney, Saha.
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Brown, Richardson, Fletcher, Silvestre.


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