Sport Soccer

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Loovens hoping for 'strange' return leg

Jamie Holland

Glenn Loovens admits Celtic will be relying on football's habit of throwing up "strange" outcomes when they attempt to overturn a 3-0 deficit in the second instalment of their Champions League tie with Braga.

Like manager Neil Lennon, Loovens insists the Hoops' third qualifying- round clash is not over, despite their crushing defeat at the AXA Stadium.

But the Dutch defender acknowledges it will take an epic turnaround to prevent his side crashing out of Europe's premier club competition and into the Europa League play-offs.

"Everything happens in football," the 26-year-old said. "But, you have to be honest. We still have a game to go, but three goals is quite a lot. Like I said, though, strange things can happen in football."

Both sides looked off the pace on Wednesday night in what was their first competitive match of the season, while the Portuguese heat perhaps also played a part. But Braga still managed to create several opportunities, while Celtic played like strangers, their four debutants all failing to make any impact.

Asked if he thought the new-look side -- containing summer signings Joe Ledley, Charlie Mulgrew, Efrain Juarez and Cha Du-Ri -- could gel in time to for the second leg, Loovens said: "We will see. After this performance, you would like to think so. We need to step up, and step up quickly."

Overturning a 3-0 first-leg deficit is not without precedent in European football, but it is extremely rare.

Celtic almost came back from 5-0 down five years ago against Artmedia Bratislava, winning the return leg of the second qualifying-round clash 4-0 at Parkhead.

One thing is clear, this tie will be over if they defend next week like they did on Wednesday. Loovens branded the manner in which he and his team-mates conceded two goals in the final 15 minutes as "a joke".

The visitors looked to be heading for a 1-0 defeat after conceding a controversial first-half penalty to Osorio Alan but they allowed Braga to score twice from set pieces late on.

"It was not good enough for the Champions League. We gave away an easy penalty, but I never felt we were in trouble of any sort in the game because they didn't really spread us open," Loovens said. "In the second half, we continued to play badly on the ball, but hardly gave anything away. Then, two sloppy set-pieces and you are 3-0 behind.


"It was already hard. But, how we gave the last two goals away was a joke. We couldn't get three passes together, and it is hard to get into the game like that. Yet, we hardly gave anything away, and to concede three goals from set-pieces is hard to swallow."

Although insisting the buck stopped with the players, Loovens echoed his manager's criticism of the officials, particularly assistant referee Frank Bleyen's decision to penalise Ki Sung-Yeung for handball in the box.

"It was hard for me to see," he said. "I think it came off his chest. Maybe it touched his arm, but he (Bleyen) could not get his flag up quickly enough."

There was some reasons for Celtic supporters to be cheerful, however, as Aiden McGeady took part in a training match at Lennoxtown yesterday after being left out of the squad for Wednesday night's defeat.

The winger's absence fuelled speculation he is on the verge of being sold, but Lennon insisted he had a back injury and could play in the second leg.

Former Derry City player Paddy McCourt, meanwhile, has agreed a two-year extension to his current deal at Celtic Park. The Northern Ireland international had a year of his contract to run but the new deal -- which is "close" to completion -- will keep him at Parkhead until 2013.

Lennon made his seventh new signing of the summer yesterday when Israel midfielder Beram Kayal (22) signed a four-year contract after completing his move from Maccabi Haifa. Kayal brushed aside suggestions that his move to Glasgow had been spoiled by the result in Portugal.

"I came here so happy, so excited," he said through an interpreter. "I'm just thinking about the moment I get on the pitch and play for the Celtic fans. This is all I care about.

"When you speak about the Champions League, it's nothing. When you say Celtic, it's a big, big thing. Celtic is a big name, it's a big community. I'm happy to play for one of the best clubs in the world and I'm not thinking about other things.

"It's a big thing for me -- a dream come true. All last week during the discussions I couldn't sleep. I just wanted to be where I am now."

Irish Independent

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