Friday 27 April 2018

Malmo punish Celtic to have the final word

Malmo 2 Celtic 0 (Malmo win 4-3 on agg)

Celtic’s Kris Commons looks dejected at the end of last night’s Champions League qualifying play-off
Celtic’s Kris Commons looks dejected at the end of last night’s Champions League qualifying play-off
Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths reacts after a missed chance during the Champions League play-off against Malmo
Celtic’s Nir Bitton sees his headed effort blocked by the hand of Malmo’s Kari Arnason – the Celtic midfielder found the net only to see his strike controversially ruled out last night
Celtic’s Charlie Mulgrew looks dejected after last night’s Champions League play-off defeat to Malmo
Celtic's Leigh Griffiths and Kris Commons look dejected after Dedryck Boyata (not pictured) scored an own goal and the second for Malmo

Roddy Forsyth

Age Hareide had the last word in the exchange of verbals which attended this Champions League play-off as his Malmo side - rated almost 80 places lower than Celtic in the Uefa rankings - excluded the Parkhead side from the group stage and a reward of upward of £20m

Ronny Deila's assertion that Celtic would win and that they were a better team than Malmo was made to sound hollow when - having conceded a crucial late goal at a corner to Jo Inge Berget in the first leg - they were undone at two more in Sweden by Markus Rosenberg and an own goal from Dedryck Boyata.

Deila felt his side showed fear and could not hide his disappointment at another early exit from Europe's premier club competition.

"Today we performed not even close to what we can do," he lamented. "We have played well in many, many games this season but today we looked scared and uncomfortable on the ball and very stressed, and that's my responsibility.


"So I have to go through this what happened and learn from this. We have to get better, that's the main thing. Now we were close but when you have a performance like this we don't deserve to get in there.

"These are big games for Celtic. Everybody wants to get through but we didn't play as a team and looked very uncomfortable on the ball.

"If the performance had been fantastic and we lost then you can deal with it but today was a disappointing performance and that is even tougher."

The intense atmosphere testified raucously to the passions aroused by the pre-match gamesmanship of Hareide.

The febrile atmosphere in the stands was matched by some sour exchanges on the field and Virgil van Dijk was cautioned for unsporting behaviour for dragging the ball away from Johan Wiland at a Malmo goal-kick.

The overriding feeling, however, was that there was no chance of the outcome being scoreless, an impression confirmed midway through the first half when Malmo won a corner on the right.

Kari Arnason had pushed up and was occupying Van Dijk's attention when Rosenberg arrived on the scene to deflect the ball beyond Craig Gordon with the outside of his upper arm.

Debatable the goal might have been but the damage was done and Celtic were now losing on away goals. They were fortunate, though, not be down to 10 men when Anton Timmerman, wasting time at a Celtic free-kick, was knocked over by Leigh Griffiths, who pushed his knee into the Malmo man's groin but escaped with a caution.

Serbian referee Milorad Mazic demonstrated further capacity for controversy when he ruled out what looked a perfectly legitimate goal by Nir Biton just before the break. Celtic had won a corner which looked to be dropping under the crossbar when it was handled by Arnason and knocked down to the Israeli, who shot home.

After a confab with his additional assistant, Mazic disallowed the goal, although it was not clear from his clenched fist gesture whether the handball had been called incorrectly or if he had seen some other infringement.

Celtic's woes deepened at the same end of the field after the interval when, stretched by Malmo pressure kept at bay only by a double block from Gordon, they concede another wounding corner kick.

This time, Felipe Carvalho, who had arrived as a restart replacement for Rasmus Bengtsson, got a head to the delivery. The ball was going wide until Boyata intervened to deflect it past Gordon, with Carvalho driving home to make sure.

With time ebbing fast and Celtic needing two goals to progress, Deila replaced Biton with Nadir Ciftci before James Forrest was removed and Gary Mackay-Steven sent on to supply the front two.

It was a gambler's ploy, but amidst the exultation of the Malmo fans, the dice were rolling against Celtic in unforgiving fashion.

The Europa League now awaits the Hoops - small consolation for the unforced errors that barred them from the top table of European football and which have renewed questions about Deila's capacity to advance them at this level. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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