Celtic stunned by nightmare ending to European dreams
Dejected: Celtic players at final whistle (pic: SNS Group)
Round of 32, second leg
Celtic 1 FC Copenhagen 3 (agg: 2-4)
Celtic’s dream of European glory turned out to be nothing but a nightmare for Neil Lennon and his players.
What had looked a favourable draw for the Glasgow side after qualifying as group winners proved an insurmountable hurdle for the Scottish champions.
A lot of the pre-match talk at Parkhead was about who Celtic could face in the last 16, most observers believing they had done the hard part in bringing back a 1-1 draw from Denmark.
Lips were even being licked at the possibility of a Euro showdown with Rangers, who did make it through to the next round after an impressive win over Braga.
They first had to take care of their unfancied opponents, though, and that is where the script went disastrously wrong for a team who went into the match unbeaten in 2020.
The home side were a pale shadow of the team which had stormed through to this stage of the competition and paid the penalty for a lacklustre display.
Centre half Jozo Simunovic gifted Copenhagen the opener early in the second half which changed the complexion of the tie and although Odsonne Edouard hauled his team level eight minutes from time when he converted a penalty awarded by VAR for handball, Celtic quickly surrendered the initiative.
Just when a raucous Parkhead anticipated Celtic going on to finish off their opponents in the closing moments, more poor defending allowed Pep Biel to put the Danes 2-1 ahead in the 85th minute and they rubbed salt into the Hoops’ gaping wounds with a third through Dame N’Doye .
It’s 16 years since Celtic progressed from a post-group stage knockout tie.
Many pundits had suggested Celtic were good enough to win the competition outright but how premature such talk has proved.
They will wonder how they contrived to lose in such fashion to a team which had gone into the game having scored just six times in their seven Europa League matches this season.
“We basically shot ourselves in the foot,” said Lennon. “We didn’t manage the game after getting back into it. We had a great opportunity and we let it go.
“We were the better team for huge parts of the game. We did all of the forcing but we gave away cheap goals.
“These players have been absolutely brilliant for me, so I’m not going to criticise. They know they’ve let themselves down. Basic, individual mistakes have cost us.”
Captain Scott Brown said: “We’re disappointed not to get to the last 16, but it’s done and dusted now and we need to make sure we concentrate. There’s no time for us to be sloppy and continue this. We have to be as positive as we possibly can.”
Celtic travel to Perth to take on St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, while Rangers face Hearts at Tynecastle 24 hours earlier.