CELTIC gave themselves a mountain to climb bigger than the rockface overlooking AXA Stadium after crashing to Braga in last night’s Champions League third qualifying round first leg.
And they may have to turn the tie around next week without star winger Aiden McGeady, whose Parkhead career could be over after he was left out of the squad for the club’s first competitive game of the season.
Life after McGeady does not look very promising on last night’s evidence, with goals from Alan, debutant Uwa Elderson Echiejile and substitute Matheus condemning Neil Lennon to defeat on his European debut as manager.
Celtic failed to muster a single shot on target in sweltering conditions, with their opponents comfortably holding sway.
Lennon had insisted he would field winger McGeady — who is rumoured to want to leave — unless he was ordered not to pick him by the club’s hierarchy.
Instead, four players were handed their competitive debuts, with summer signings Joe Ledley, Charlie Mulgrew, Efrain Juarez and Cha Du-Ri all in the starting XI. The hosts took the lead in the 25th minute after being awarded a controversial penalty when Ki Sung-Yeung was adjudged to have handled Miguel Garcia’s cross, earning a booking.
Alan fired the spot-kick into the roof of the net to put Braga ahead.
Celtic attempted to fight back but there was no legislating for the appalling defending that gifted Braga their second goal 15 minutes from time, Matheus’ corner missed by a host of players before Elderson bundled the ball home.
Charlie Mulgrew sent a free-kick wide which Mario Felgueiras had covered before Matheus showed him how it should be done.
The substitute stepped up after a foul three minutes from time and blasted a shot which flew into the top corner.
BRAGA: Felgudira, Rodriguez, Moises, Garcia, Echiejile, Madrid, Leandro Salino, Vandinho, Paulo Cesar, Lima (Matheus 66), Alan (Helder Barbosa 90).
CELTIC: Zaluska, Juarez (Forrest 79), Hooiveld, Cha Du-Ri, Mulgrew, Loovens, Brown, Ledley, Ki Sung-Yeung, Samaras, Maloney (Murphy 70).
Last night’s results: European Cups — Champions League (qualifiers, first legs): Aktobe 1 Hapoel Tel Aviv 0, BATE Borisov 0 FC Copenhagen 0, FC Sheriff 1 Dinamo Zagreb 1, Debrecen 0 Basel 2, Young Boys Bern 2 Fenerbahce 2, AIK Stockholm 0 Rosenborg 1, Ajax Amsterdam 1 PAOK Saloniki 1, Partizan Belgrade 3 HJK Helsinki 0, Braga 3 Celtic 0.
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