Celtic played Benfica in the European Champions League this season, but failed to win both home or away ...CELTIC 0 BENFICA 0
Celtic drew a blank against Benfica in their Champions League Group G opener at Parkhead. It was a spirited and determined performance from the Scottish champions but over the course of 90 hard-fought minutes they failed to really trouble the visitors' goal.
Indeed, in terms of chances created, the Portuguese side could perhaps claim to have edged it, with Hoops keeper Fraser Forster forced into a good blocking save from Rodrigo in the first half and another at his near post from Ezequiel Garay (pictured right) after the break.
Next up for Celtic in Europe is an away trip to Spartak Moscow next month where boss Neil Lennon will look for the same commitment from his players added to a cutting edge that was missing tonight.
There were surprises in both side's line-ups. Celtic's new signing Miku was handed his European debut for the Hoops as regular striker Gary Hooper, struggling with a knock sustained in the shock defeat at St Johnstone on Saturday, started on the bench.
Lennon reshuffled his side, bringing in Adam Matthews to right-back with Mikael Lustig moving into the centre of defence and Charlie Mulgrew starting on the left-hand side of midfield.
Benfica were without suspended skipper Luisao and Maxi Pereira while star striker Oscar Cardozo was among the substitutes with Eduardo Salvio, Nicolas Gaitan and Rodrigo making up the visitors' forward line.
It was another electrifying European night in the east end of Glasgow in front of a near capacity crowd.
Celtic midfielder Kris Commons, who was supporting Miku, showed his intent with two attempts on goal within the first couple of minutes, the first clearing the bar, the second blocked by a packed red and black defence.
Benfica looked unsettled as the home side chased and harried with the Celtic fans cheering every tackle, corner and throw-in won.
When the initial frenzy subsided the Portuguese side came into the game, forcing a couple of corners which came to nothing but signalled their growing confidence.
In the 21st minute Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama was booked for preventing Enzo Perez racing towards the Hoops box after some neat inter-play from Jorge Jesus's men.
There was little goalmouth action at either end, though, until after the half-hour mark when Forster rushed from his goal to make a good block from Rodrigo who had raced on to a Perez pass which had opened up the Parkhead defence.
Emilio Izaguirre was then booked in the 34th minute for a lunge on Salvio and he almost cost his side dearly moments later when he was caught in possession by the same player, albeit he had been put under some pressure by skipper Scott Brown's pass, but the Benfica attack ended with the offside flag raised.
Benfica's lanky midfielder Nemanja Matic picked up a yellow card moments into the second half after catching Miku in the face while Lennon held his breath when Wanyama, already booked, pulled down Gaitan but referee Nicola Rizzoli showed some leniency.
The game swung end to end but the slackness from both sides, in terms of possession, seemed set to continue to the frustration of Lennon and his counterpart Jesus.
Benfica clearly fancied their chances as the second half unfolded further and just after the hour mark, following Pablo Aimar's whipped-in corner from the left, Forster made a good near-post save from Garay's header.
Benfica skipper Aimar (picted right) was then replaced by Cardozo and Thomas Rogne came on for Lustig to partner Kelvin Wilson in central defence for Celtic before Izaguirre made way for Hooper.
The home side forced several corners in succession but failed to test keeper Artur while at the other end, in the 75th minute, Rogne had to throw himself to block Gaitan's goal-bound drive.
When Celtic broke from the corner, Commons tried to catch Artur out with a long punt from around the halfway line but the Benfica keeper scrambled back to save.
Inevitably the tension increased in the closing stages with the Hoops supporters knowing a goal would probably ensure the three points.
With 10 minutes remaining and Celtic pressing, winger James Forrest went down in the box when challenged by Benfica defender Melgarejo but referee Rizzoli stood firm in the face of vociferous appeals for a penalty, albeit it would perhaps have been soft if given.
In the 88th minute, as Benfica took another turn to search for a goal, Cardozo headed a cross from Andre Almeida over the bar from 12 yards but a winner then would probably have been cruel on Celtic.BENFICA 2 CELTIC 1
Celtic's bid to win through to the knockout stages of the Champions League will go to their last Group G fixture following their defeat by Benfica at the Stadium of Light. Ola John gave the home side the lead in the seventh minute before Georgios Samaras levelled in the 32nd minute from a Charlie Mulgrew corner.
Defender Ezequiel Garay restored Benfica's lead in the 72nd minute to ultimately, and deservedly, leave both sides on seven points after five games.
The Scottish champions, guaranteed a Europa League spot after Barcelona beat Spartak 3-0 in Moscow earlier in the evening, will go through if, in their home game against the Russian club, they better the Portuguese side's result in Barcelona.
While Neil Lennon can have no qualms about Tuesday night's result he must fancy his side's chances of completing the job in front of a packed Parkhead against to a side who have nothing to play for, while Benfica, it must be assumed, will not be favourites in the Nou Camp.
A score draw would have been enough to take the Hoops into the last 16 while Benfica had to win to have any hope of qualifying.
The home side went into the game on the back of five clean sheets and knowing Celtic had failed to win away to the Eagles on three previous occasions and having failed to score in any of the games.
Celtic, buoyed by their incredible 2-1 home win over Barca earlier in the month, had skipper Scott Brown, midfielder Joe Ledley and striker Gary Hooper back in the side as Kris Commons, Beram Kayal and Tony Watt dropped to the bench.
Benfica captain Luisao was back for the first time in the group stage following an incident with a referee in a friendly against Fortuna Dusseldorf in August while midfielder Nemanja Matic returned after serving a one-game ban on match day four.
The home supporters in a less than full stadium were given early encouragement when striker Oscar Cardozo flashed a speculative shot from distance over the bar, after Samaras had lost possession in his own half.
It was a nervy start by the visitors and Benfica's opener came when Adam Matthews, playing at left-back, failed to clear his lines with a clearance, handing possession to Eduardo Salvio and when his cross arrived at John 16 yards out, he drilled his shot through the legs of right-back Mikael Lustig and past keeper Fraser Forster.
Mistakes and indecision peppered Celtic's play and on the half-hour mark they might have gone two behind when Salvio cleverly played in Oscar Cardozo but his drive went wide of the target.
Two minutes later, and out of the blue, Celtic were level when Mulgrew's in-swinging corner from the right was headed in by Samaras, strangely unmarked two yards out at the back post.
The goal immediately energised the Celtic players and as they moved forward with menace for the first time in the game and in the midst of driving rain the home side looked vulnerable.
Four minutes from the break, however, Salvio blazed a drive over the bar from the edge of the box after the Celtic defence had momentarily fallen asleep.
Moments later, with Benfica wresting control back, the Parkhead rearguard was again exposed but this time Forster blocked John's shot from 12 yards.
Kayal replaced Mulgrew for the start of the second-half but he was soon back peddling as Benfica came out with renewed vigour.
In the 53rd minute Matthews made up for his early error when he blocked a shot by Lima on the line, after the Benfica wide-man drifted easily inside past Hoops defender Efe Ambrose.
As the Eagles' pressure intensified, defender Luisao clipped the ball over the bar from five yards after the Celtic defence had failed to clear properly a John corner.
It was all hands to the pump for Celtic, who made another change in the 64th minute when Commons came on for Brown.
Forster was forced into another save from Lima's drive before Oscar Cardozo skimmed a header wide of the target.
In the 70th minute Salvio missed Lima's cross from the left when it looked like he must score but two minutes later that was forgotten when Matic's cross from the right was headed on by Luisao and Garay volleyed powerfully past the helpless Forster from eight yards.
As stunned Celtic wobbled, Salvio clipped the bar with a 25-yard drive before Forster tipped an Oscar Cardozo free-kick over the bar from the same distance, with the visitors surviving the corner.
Tension gripped the stadium in the closing stages with both sets of fans knowing the significance of a Celtic goal.
Two minutes from time Hoops substitute Watt, on for Ledley, had a drive from distance following a swift break easily saved by Artur.
But a minute later, as Benfica broke, Forster made a great save from Oscar Cardozo who had easily slipped the attention of Ambrose before sending in a drive from the edge of the box.
In the first minute of injury-time Kayal blasted a volley from 20 yards over the bar, and Watt drove wide from the edge of the box, ensuring that attention now turns to the final set of Group G fixtures in a fortnight, where more drama is guaranteed.
Source: Newcastle United Mad