Champions League: Celtic fend off Malmo; Basel draw Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Celtic saw off Swedish side Malmo on Wednesday in Glasgow, with Leigh Griffiths scoring twice to give the Scots a 3-2 win and a scant one-goal cushion ahead of next Tuesday’s rematch. But the story here may prove to be Malmo’s two away goals: they arguably now have the advantage after Jo Inge Berget fired in a late goal in stoppage time to change the momentum of the tie.
Played in typically awful late-summer Scottish weather, Celtic struck early and late in an error-strewn match that showcased both the good and the bad of these Champions League hopefuls.
Celtic got on the board after only three minutes, with Griffths slipped through a static Malmo back line by Stefan Johansen to score with a simple side-footed tap-in. It was simply too easy for the Scots, who pulled the Swedes apart with the movement of Emilio Izaguirre and Johansen, setting Celtic Park up for what looked to be a canter home.
Eight minutes later, the Swedes conceded again, allowing Nir Biton to score a simple header off a routine corner. If the first goal was farcical, this was a total defensive collapse on Malmo’s part, with their defenders jumping too early and screening keeper Johan Wiland. In fact, Anton Tinnerholm clattered into his own man, preventing Wiland from getting anywhere near the header. Wiland’s expression as Celtic wheeled off to celebrate was one of pure disgust.
The hits kept on coming: Johansen and Griffiths kept Wiland busy, and as Celtic sprayed the ball about, the Swedes seemed to grow dizzy. It wasn’t until the 25th minute, when a loose ball allowed Vladimir Rodic a free shot at Craig Gordon, that Malmo actually had a true look at the Celtic net.
Age Hareide finally made a change, shifting his formation from a standard 4-4-2 into a 4-3-2-1, adding an extra man in midfield to try and get a handle on Scott Brown and Johansen. As the half wore on, the move began to pay dividends – Celtic were no longer ripping through their center-backs like wet tissue-paper – but Malmo continued to lack any thrust up top, and Gordon remained relatively idle.
If Celtic were guilty of something, it was taking the foot off the pedal too soon. Johansen and Stuart Armstrong should have killed this tie off in the first half, but instead, the Glaswegians began to play down to their opponents, putting passes awry and not taking full advantage.
But after a testy start to the second half, Malmo found their footing. Stuart Armstrong sent in a corner for Celtic that was collected by the Swedes and flung out wide right to Magnus Eikrem. With a great cross back to the far flank, Eikrem picked out Berget, and with time and space, he lashed a right-footed half-volley across the face of the goal and in at the far post. It was as unstoppable shot, but the buildup was entirely Celtic’s fault: they had three chances to stop the counter but their ragged back four simply declined to press.
But on the stroke of the hour, Griffiths struck back for Celtic. Completely against the run of play, Tinnerholm – yes the same luckless back who screened his own keeper on Celtic’s second goal – inexplicably let a routine cross bounce in front of him. Tinnerholm then compounded the error by trying to head the ball straight up in the air, which Griffiths outjumped him for. The ball arced over a despairing Wiland and tucked just under the crossbar to restore Celtic’s two-goal cushion. It was completely unnecessary and has to stand as an early candidate for worst European goal of the season.
But deep in stoppage time, off a routine corner, Berget saw the ball drop to him, and he beat Gordon at the near post with a powerful shot. The goal sent Malmo’s sideline into wild celebrations – and seemed to crush the Scots.
There was another bitter coda on the night as well for Celtic, as Mikael Lustig pulled up with what appeared to be a serious hamstring injury with ten minutes to play. Lustig has been plagued by injuries and was wearing protective tape on that hamstring; he was stretchered off the field in tears.
Other Champions League results:
FC Basel 2, Maccabi Tel-Aviv 2
Skenderbeu Korce 1, Dinamo Zagreb 2
Rapid Vienna 0, Shakhtar Donetsk 1
VIENNA (AP) Shakhtar Donetsk beat Rapid Vienna 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League playoff Wednesday, positioning itself for reaching the group stage for a sixth straight season.
Defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy set up Marlos in the 44th, and he wrongfooted Rapid defender Stephan Auer before beating goalkeeper Jan Novota with a low diagonal shot.
Rapid pressed for an equalizer in the second half but was often too wayward in its passing on a soaking wet field because of rain.
Shakhtar hasn't missed out on the group stage since 2010. Last season, it was beaten by Bayern Munich in the round of 16.
Rapid is seeking its third appearance in the group stage and first in 10 years. The last Austrian team to qualify was Austria Vienna two years ago.
Dinamo Zabreg got a stoppage-time goal from Josip Pivaric to complete its 2-1 comeback at Albania's Skenderbeu, while Maccabi Tel Aviv earned a 2-2 draw at Basel.