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Fears for Larsson's future after broken leg nightmare

LYON 1 CELTIC 0 HENRIK LARSSON suffered an horrific broken leg after only 12 minutes of Celtic's UEFA Cup second round first leg tie in Lyon last night.The Swedish international fell to the ground, writhing in agony and clutching his left leg, after attempting to challenge Serge Blanc. Larsson's team-mates were visibly upset by the extent of the injury.

With painful irony it was Blanc who emerged after 63 minutes to hit the winner for Lyon with a magnificent angled drive which settled proceedings on a night in which Celtic defended bravely throughout. But the result didn't seem to matter, such was the upset in the visitors' camp over their star player's injury.

Lyon almost moved ahead after seven minutes when Vikash Dhorasoo teased Vidar Riseth on the right before crossing the ball for Sonny Anderson, the £11million summer signing from Barcelona, to send a mid-air back flick audaciously wide.

Then, after 12 minutes, came the moment this match for which the match will be remembered as Larsson challenged Blanc for the ball deep inside Celtic's half.

Such was the on-field reaction that it immediately became apparent he was seriously injured. A stretcher was rushed onto the pitch and Larsson needed four minutes of treatment before being carried away.

Television pictures at once confirmed his left leg had snapped just above the ankle, sparking fears the damage might even prove career-threatening.

Comparisons were instantly drawn with Coventry defender David Busst, who in April 1996 was carried off at Old Trafford visibly in agony after a serious leg break against Manchester United which ended his career.

The match had a strange silence hanging over it after that and it was several minutes before play regained any kind of momentum, such was the shock felt by players of both sides.

Celtic had claims for a penalty rejected after 24 minutes when substitue Mark Burchill raced onto a through ball from Mark Viduka before rounding goalkeeper Gregory Coupet, but referee Rene Temmink had other ideas.

The Dutchman instead opted to book the Scotland striker for diving, which seemed strange given that Burchill still looked to be in control of the ball and an open goal invited him.

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Lyon continued to press, Anderson sending a flicked header wide of the mark, but Celtic forced Coupet into a save through Lubomir Moravcik's swerving free-kick after 28 minutes which was heading goalwards.

From the resulting corner a Craig Burley shot found its way to Burchill, who spun expertly on the edge of the six-yard box only to send his shot the wrong side of the post for Celtic's liking.

Celtic had a great chance to take the lead after 55 minutes when Viduka again pushed Burchill through on keeper Coupet, but the 19-year-old forward snatched at the opening and sent a tame effort wide of the mark.

Lyon were pressing forward in numbers with Anderson turning Tebily neatly just inside the area before side-footing the ball just wide.

Yet Celtic looked resilient at the back and it needed a stunning goal to beat them. The impressive Dhorasoo held the ball up inside the area before playing in Blanc to his left. And the midfielder rifled an astonishing first-time shot into the top right-hand corner of the net, leaving Gould with no chance to get even near it such was the power of the strike.

Celtic's night might have been ruined still further after 81 minutes when Anderson again got the better of Tebily, but Gould dashed from his goal to close down the shot and keep Celtic's hopes alive in the tie.

Larsson's injury will be a massive blow to Celtic's hopes for the season, to say nothing of Sweden's for the European Championship finals. He has been a revelation since joining Celtic from Feyenoord two years ago, captured for £600,000 by then manager Wim Jansen, and in Saturday's 7-0 win over Aberdeen passed 50 league goals for the club with a hat-trick.

The Swedish striker's first season in Scotland was a triumph, and a testament to the judgment of Dutchman Wim Jansen, who brought the dreadlocked forward to Celtic in the summer of 1997 for a bargain £600,000.

Feyenoord's loss was definitely Celtic's gain. That first season may only have brought Larsson 16 league goals, but how valuable they were. And fears that Jansen's controversial departure in 1998 would affect his attitude were to prove mistaken.

Larsson went out and hit 29 in the Premier League last season to stake his claim to the title of the best striker in Scotland. It has been more of the same under Barnes so far this term, with 13 goals in all competitions.

Now not just this season but his whole career is in jeopardy after suffering a sickening broken leg against Lyon. Everyone in the football world will be hoping that the worst scenario does not come true.

For Larsson is not just a stylish and attractive footballer, he is a thoughtful and intelligent man. Wary of the attentions of the press, he always considers each question carefully before expressing an opinion.

But on the field he shows a genuine enjoyment of the game and deserved his awards as Scottish Player of the Year last season, and Sweden's Footballer of the Year.

With exceptional pace, wonderful skill and strength in the air, he could be fairly described as the complete forward who creates goals as often as scoring them.

After launching his career with his hometown club of Helsingborg, Larsson joined Feyenoord, and he helped them to two Dutch Cup victories.

John Barnes, summed up the club's feelings afterwards when he said: ``It was a sickening moment and put a dampener on the whole game. We wish him all the best for a speedy recovery.''

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