Schoolboy defending ends Bhoys' Euro dream
CELTIC 0 AC MILAN 3
Those who thought Celtic could not fall below the sorry display seen in Amsterdam three weeks ago were corrected last night.
Home is where the heart went out of their Champions League campaign as they were ejected from Europe by goals from Kaka, Cristian Zapata and Mario Balotelli for an AC Milan side supposedly in disarray, but who became only the second side to win at Parkhead in this tournament.
The team selection was much as expected, although some fans were heard to express surprise that Beram Kayal -- whose most recent start featured a below-par performance in the defeat by Ajax in Amsterdam -- would partner Charlie Mulgrew in the holding midfield roles.
But most of the chatter was about the inclusion of James Forrest, whose off-field concerns were evidently judged not to have dislodged his focus from the demands of the night.
As Neil Lennon had hinted strongly, Derk Boerrigter -- who scored his first goal for the club against Aberdeen on Saturday -- was asked to provide pace on the left flank, with Kris Commons playing off Georgios Samaras, in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Milan, meanwhile, had dropped Alessandro Matri to the bench, while Sulley Muntari was entirely absent from the side that drew with Genoa on Saturday, prompting a disenchanted portion of their support to protest by corralling the players in the San Siro afterwards.
In such circumstances, the first goal was sure to be significant beyond the norm, even at this level, but an ominous and familiar pattern was apparent in Celtic's early thrusts.
The absence of ruthlessness -- periodically bemoaned by Lennon -- manifested itself within seconds of the kick-off when Efe Ambrose surged from the halfway line to find Samaras on the edge of the box, where the Greek forced a corner kick.
Mulgrew's delivery from the right was exemplary and found Boerrigter advancing blindside of the defence. The Dutchman had only to connect firmly to score, but his body shape was a jumble as he made contact and the ball squirmed wide.
Kayal had the next opportunity to impose himself on destiny when he got in the way of a Mulgrew shot for the ball to fall at his feet 10 yards out, but he failed to assemble his senses to do more than push his effort off target.
Even amid their well-attested vulnerability, Milan could not be expected to remain obligingly passive, but even they could not have anticipated the ease with which their troubles would be dissipated.
When Mulgrew ran into trouble in midfield, Kayal was obliged to foul Balotelli to stop him breaking through unchecked.
Urby Emanuelson's free-kick was deflected for a corner which Valter Birsa dropped into the heart of the box -- of all the places Kaka could not be allowed to operate without cover. The Brazilian, though, did not have to jump to head trimly beyond Fraser Forster.
The sound of nails being hammered into Celtic's coffin was magnified by the news that Ajax had taken the lead at home to Barcelona and when they went 2-0 ahead just before the interval the outlook for Celtic was bleak -- not dark yet, but getting there.
In almost exquisitely masochistic fashion, Virgil Van Dijk contrived to miss Celtic's best chance when Mulgrew found him loitering alone in the six-yard box, only for the defender to place his attempt straight at Christian Abbiati.
Further daubs of misery for Celtic were added to the picture immediately when, from another Birsa corner kick, Antonio Nocerino nodded across the goalmouth for Zapata to prod the ball past Emilio Izaguirre.
Barca chose this moment to score against Ajax but the brief candle of hope was snuffed out when Balotelli eased Ambrose aside to beat Forster on the angle and send the first disenchanted Hoops fans to the exits. (© Daily Telegraph, London)