Celtic collected a 1-1 draw and a valuable away goal Wednesday against NK Maribor in Slovenia. Callum McGregor and Damjan Bohar traded early goals and then both sides clung on in a wild, wide-open and quite sloppy game. The result means the Scots have the edge ahead of their return to Parkhead next week.
Elsewhere, Porto edged Lille in France 1-0 and Zenit St. Petersburg gave new manager Andre Villas-Boas a big road 1-0 win over Standard Liege.
The Champions League playoffs continue next week with ten games across the FOX family Tuesday and Wednesday.
Celtic and Maribor traded sloppy goals in the first fifteen minutes, with neither team really looking like European royalty. Still, it was a better show from the Scots on the balance after the waxing they had taken at the hands of Legia Warsaw.
McGregor, as he did three weeks ago in Poland, opened the scoring for the Scots, tapping home after only six minutes on a hash of a play. Jo Inge Berget forced Jasmin Handanovic into an awkward save with his legs and the ball fell kindly for the youngster to put away the rebound.
But the lead — again, as in Poland — would not stand for the Scots. Just seven minutes later, Zeljko Filipovic slipped through a wonderful pass that Virgil van Dijk could not cut out. Marcos Tavares was sent to the floor on the edge of the area but the referee played advantage, allowing Bohar in free on Craig Gordon to score with ease.
Celtic would continue to threaten, with Craig Mulgrew heading on a Stefan Johansen corner ten minutes later that Filipovic cleared off the line. And then, in one of the more bizarre plays of the day, Anthony Stokes sent in a brilliant corner that was well met by van Dijk, only to see the header carom off the line off Johansen — his own man.
The second half was truly wild with Maribor’s Tavares forcing a save out of Gordon right off the kickoff, and both teams spurning chances left and right.
Stokes shot a laser just wide of the upright on a clean break, and there were three solid shout for Celtic penalties — one with Aleksandr Rajevic handling a shot from Stokes; one seeing Beram Kayal barreled over in the area, and one, a weak call when Johansen dribbled the ball around Handanovic only to lose it — but it was hardly one-way traffic.
Agim Ibraimi forced Gordon into a big stop off a free header on the hour, and Maribor continued to push the Scots right to the whistle. Tavares and wee mixer Dare Vrsic, tested Gordon twice, but they might regret their tactics. For large spells Maribor were content to absorb, and it wasn’t until late that they really put the screw to the Scots.
In France, Porto edged Lille 1-0 in a gritty match absent many true scoring chances until the second half, and Hector Herrera’s winner. The result gives Porto a huge advantage ahead of next Tuesday’s return in Portugal, alongside a precious away goal.
Substitute and ex-Barcelona man Cristian Tello set up the winner on the hour, sending in a cross from the endline that Jackson Martinez put down on a plate for Herrera to side past Vincent Enyeama.
That was the best of what were slim pickings. Martinez had a shout for a penalty around the half hour mark when he was hauled down in the box, with the defender having a good handful of his jersey. But the best chance of the first period fell to Lille’s Sebastien Corchia. He turned his man well at the top of the box to make a yard of space, but then dragged his shot agonizingly wide of Fabiano’s net. Papa Souare was almost able to ping home a free header late off service from Corchia but even though Fabiano bobbled it, the keeper recovered to clean up the mess.
Zenit were lively from the start in Liege, forcing Standard onto the back foot early and collecting the winning goal after 16 minutes when Oleg Shatov had space in the right side of the box to finish from 10 yards. Danny, dominant in midfield, started the move with a chip that Hulk chested back across the face of goal. The Russians nearly got a second in first half stoppage time, but Jose Rondon saw his eight yard drive clatter off the meat of the crossbar after he had gotten free low on the right.
After that Zenit hit the post and Rondon was beaten to a chance by a very late tackle as Villas Boas’ side regained control of the match to take their away goal, and the 1-0 advantage into next week’s second leg.
Aab Aalborg and APOEL shared the spoils, 1-1. The only goal in the first half in Denmark came off a sweet passing movement and perfectly-timed run from Nicolaj Thomsen in the 16th minute. Nicklas Helenius began the attack when he won a difficult midfield challenge and immediately released Patrick Kristensen wide on the right. Kristensen cut his cross through the box to meet Thomsen’s run that had begun from deep and caught the APOEL defense unprepared for his finish.
The Cypriots were level nine minutes after the retstart when a cleverly-timed flick from Tiago Gomes sent Vinicius down the inside right channel to beat one defender before driving it into the net from eight yards. Aalborg then missed a golden chance to regain command in the 73rd minute when Thomsen beat the offside trap and was in alone only to see his attemped chip parried away at point-blank range by APOEL’s Spanish keeper Urko Pardo.
APOEL held off any further Danish challenges and head home both with an away goal and the confidence of a strong away performance.
And there were plenty of chances, crossbars hit and shots cleared off the line in an eventful match in Bratislava, but goals came late in each half as Slovan and BATE drew 1-1.
BATE’s Sergei Krivets broke down the left flank with room to measure a cross headed in the direction of Vitali Rodionov in the center of the box in the 44th minute. Tomas Jablonsky beat Rodionov, but his attempted clearance flew into the low left corner of his own net.
Slovan had to wait until the 80th minute to get level, Robert Vittek controlling a high ball into the box with his right foot, then turning to slam a left-foot strike to the near left post. There’s little to choose between sides who head for Belarus next week in an apparently even tie.