Sport Soccer

Sunday 22 April 2018

Kayal dreams of Bhoys' European day in the sun

Celtic 2
St Mirren 0

Roddy Forsyth

No leap of understanding must be summoned to see why Beram Kayal wants Celtic to be paired with Malaga when the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League is made in Nyon on Thursday.

While reviewing Neil Lennon's Bhoys' performance in their home win over St Mirren on Saturday, the Israeli midfielder had pronounced himself glad to be playing anywhere, any time, having experienced a half-year hiatus through injury.

However, when asked if he had enjoyed last week's experience of a Scottish Cup replay at Arbroath – where the thermometer dropped to -6C – he replied, with feeling: "No! Too cold!"

The Costa del Sol in March would yield nourishment to body and spirit.

"I think Malaga would be a brilliant draw for us but there is no one we want to avoid," said Kayal. "We are still hungry to prove a lot in Europe.

"Two months ago, no one believed we could make it to the last 16. The manager changed the mentality for the players. It is a young squad and nobody wants to stop now. We are looking forward to more success and to taking the team forward.

"We don't think the last 16 is the maximum possible for this team. I don't agree with the people who say it is. Maybe we can surprise them again."

Two full calendar months lie between Celtic and the next stage of their Champions League adventure and, without Europe to fatigue or distract them from their domestic pursuits, the probability is that by then they will have established a substantial lead in the Scottish Premier League.

Saturday's win over St Mirren – coupled with results involving the teams immediately behind them – mean that they are four points clear with a game in hand and the attrition below them makes it likely that Celtic will push the advantage into double figures before long.

As matters stand, quotidian domestic fixtures have lost their shine and attendances for these games have dropped alarmingly but understandably.

Celtic have already played 10 Champions League qualifiers and group stage games and European commitments, while enticing and enjoyable, suck significant sums from the pockets of the Parkhead faithful.

In combination with a recession far deeper than anything experienced in the lifetime of all but the oldest fans – plus the proximity of the festive season – it is no great surprise that even a sizeable number of season-ticket holders appear to have become picky about what matches they will attend.

Midfielder Victor Wanyama opened the scoring in the 15th minute at the second attempt from Charlie Mulgrew's corner.

Despite monopolising possession playing in a 3-5-2 formation, Celtic struggled in front of goal until seven minutes from time, when Gary Hooper scored from close range to seal their fourth victory in succession. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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