I don’t often talk about football on this blog, but last night’s game in the European Champion’s League between the top side in England (Manchester United) and the top side in Scotland (Celtic) merits a mention. It’s more than just football that’s at stake of course. This is Scotland v. England. This is two nations with something to prove.
It wasn’t a good game. Celtic’s tactics in the first half were ill-conceived. They sat back and defended without ambition, even though they were the home side. They showed United far too much respect. Luckily for them, United weren’t in the best of form in the final third of the park and couldn’t break the deadlock.
What disappointed me was the Celtic attitude. It was as though they were saying – we are the Scottish champions but we can’t beat a team like Manchester United. It was a dreadful advert for Scottish football, particularly from a team who have real quality. They didn’t show it.
The second half was a little better. Celtic at least gave signs of wanting the ball and made a game of it. But with 10 minutes to go, things finally heated up and Shunsuke Nakamura scored with an amazing, curling free kick from over 30 metres out to put Celtic ahead.
And here is the goal everyone is talking about.
From that point, all the excitement of a normal 90 minutes were compressed into 10. Louis Saha missed a sitter for United, believing he was offside. He claimed to hear a whistle, but he was the only one. Then from a United free kick, the ball crashed into the wall. The referee awarded a penalty as the ball had struck a Celtic player’s hand. I looked at the slow motion replay and found it impossible to tell whether the defender could have got his hand out of the way or not. The newspapers this morning can’t even agree on which player the ball struck. It all happened so fast. It seemed like a very harsh decision. Fortunately, Saha’s penalty was saved by Boruc, saving the referee from the inevitable criticism.
So Celtic won 1-0. United got what they deserved for failing to score despite having the ball for most of the game. But Celtic will have to take a different attitude if they want to progress further. They’ve only lost one game at home out of twelve in the history of this competition, and they should be confident by now of attacking opponents on their home ground. In-form strikers would have punished them last night. Celtic rode their luck. Not that that dampened the spirits in Glasgow last night…