Parkhead played host to a thrilling first leg Europa League tie between Celtic and Inter Milan. John Guidetti was the hero, with the substitute’s late goal earning Celtic a more than deserved draw in a match where defending certainly didn’t come out on top.
Like many of the fixtures in this season’s Europa league the draw stirs up a historical narrative. Inter were of course Celtic’s opponents in their 1967 European Cup final success. Goals came in flurries and the two halves couldn’t have been more contrasting. Heavy rain and a typically special atmosphere were catalysts for an outrageous match.
Before any kind of judgment could be made about how the game would go, Xherdan Shaqiri stunned the Celtic park faithful, putting Inter 1-0 up in the fourth minute. And before any kind of Celtic resurgence could begin, just five minutes later and Inter scored again, this time Rodrigo Palacio putting the ball in the net. It was just the start Roberto Mancini would have wanted, and a dejected looking Ronny Deila seemed to have no answer to what had just unfolded.
Craig Gordon ought to have done better in the lead up to the first goal, having parried Shaqiri’s initial volley straight back to the Swiss midfielder for him to tuck the ball home.
And a mix up between Emilio Izaguirre and Virgil Van Dijk led to to Palacio finding himself clear on goal. The Argentine accepted the gift.
However, it was clear to see that on the whole, the Celtic players were off the pace in the early minutes, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Shaky starts in European encounters has been a running theme for Celtic for years, decades even. The step up in quality of opposition from the Scottish Premier League to the later stages of European competition is giant. Celtic are regularly effected by this.
The Inter players showed their quality following the goals, engineering chances with smart passing and skilful dribbling. Their job was made easier by a confidence shot group of Celtic players, whose tendency to dive in only opened up more space for the Italians.
Something changed however, and it all clicked for Celtic after the 20-minute mark, when Adam Matthews combined impressively with Stephan Johansen down Inter’s left flank to set up Stuart Armstrong who finished emphatically.
A minute later Celtic had the ball in the back of Inter’s net once again. 2-2. It initially seemed that Armstrong had scored the second as well, and whilst it was later confirmed to be a Hugo Campagnaro own goal, it took nothing away from the sheer disbelief of both sets of fans.
Inter had taken their foot off the gas after going 2-0 up so early on in the game and Celtic had taken advantage of this. Deila’s players were like a pack of wolves, hunting everything down, pushing Inter into their own half and putting in inconspicuous fouls to wind up Mancini’s men, specifically Gary ‘the Pitbull’ Medel.
Celtic’s attacking midfield trio of Armstrong, Stefan Johansen and Gary Mackay-Steven particularly caught the eye during this period of the match, with all three players embodying the tenacious attitude Celtic needed to match such a side as Inter.
The home side’s dominance continued up until the dying seconds of the first half when, against the run of play, Palacio was again gifted a goal, this time from a Gordon blunder, to put Inter 3-2 up at the break.
The second half was very much a war of attrition. Celtic, not completely despondent after conceding so late in the first half, were wary of conceding a goal on the counter-attack. As the seconds ticked on, Mancini became increasingly protective of the scoreline, making two defensive substitutions late in the game.
Deila countered this and made a double change which, although like for like, turned out to influence the match in a hugely positive way for his side. Liam Henderson and John Guidetti came on for Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths respectively. Within minutes came an ominous sign, Guidetti’s hassling of Andrea Rannochia forced the Inter defender to turn provider for Henderson, who forced a save from the Inter goalkeeper.
Celtic pushed and pushed a retreating Inter, who were now five at the back and they got their just deserts deep into stoppage time.
Henderson dinking a first time through ball to Guidetti, whose chest and volley sent the crowd into euphoria in the 93rd minute.
Guidetti’s strike means it’s all to play for in the second leg in Milan, but Gordon’s last minute save from a Shaqiri free-kick should not be forgotten also.
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