Saturday 16 December 2017

Five-star Celtic close in on Euro dream

Celtic 5 Hapoel Be'er Sheva 2

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Photo: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Photo: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire Sportsdesk

Celtic's Champions League dream moved closer to reality with a 5-2 win over Hapoel Be'er Sheva at Parkhead but not before the home fans suffered a brief nightmare.

The play-off tie looked dead and buried in the Hoops's favour at the interval when Leigh Griffiths struck with a header and brilliant free-kick after attacking midfielder Tom Rogic opened the scoring.

However, two goals in two minutes after the break from Brazilian striker Lucio Maranhao and skipper Maor Melikson had the Israeli side back in the game and the Celtic supporters in mild panic.

But substitute Moussa Dembele gave the Scottish champions some breathing space when he made it 4-2 from a Griffiths corner and tireless skipper Scott Brown grabbed a fifth in the 86th minute to make the trip to the Turner stadium next Tuesday night - where the prize will be a place in the Champions League's lucrative group phase - more comfortable for Brendan Rodgers's side.

Celtic Park was all but full and in good voice at kick-off, the fans recognising the magnitude of the game, although the Palestine flags displayed by a section of the home support could have disciplinary ramifications for the Glasgow club.

In a frenzied start to the game, the goal was not too long in coming.

Griffiths set Scott Sinclair free with a defence-splitting pass and when goalkeeper David Goresh clattered the former Aston Villa forward just inside the box, Rogic followed up to knock the ball into the net and Celtic Park erupted.

Five minutes from the interval Griffiths was much more clinical when he met a James Forrest cross at the back post. After defender Shir Tzedek clambered on him outside the box to pick up a booking, Griffiths picked himself up and sent a textbook curling free-kick into the top corner. However, the complexion of the game changed dramatically in a two-minute spell.

Striker Lucio Maranhao drifted too easily into the Celtic penalty area before beating Gordon with a drive, then skipper Melikson drilled in a shot from outside the box.

Rogic headed in a Griffiths corner in the 73rd minute and Brown added the last in the game's dying stages.

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