By Hamza Jabir
Defensive errors see team ‘contribute to their own downfall.’
Celtic’s Champions league campaign came to an abrupt end last night after a 3-0 home defeat to AC Milan. The comprehensive defeat cuts Neil Lennon’s side adrift at the bottom of group H with Ajax’ suprise 2-1 victory over Barcelona in Amsterdam meaning third place and the consolation of Europa League football after Christmas is an impossibility.
The Scottish champions went into the game with confidence due to apparent state of turmoil in their opponent’s camp. Milan did not have their troubles to seek after the club’s worst start to a domestic season in over three decades compounded by a supporters protest following Saturdays 1-1 home draw with lowly Chievo. However, Kaka and company rose to the occasion in emphatic style to boost their chances of qualification.
Neil Lennon was only stating the obvious when he attributed the defeat to a combination of school boy defending and profligacy in attack. First Kaka, then Christian Zapata took full advantage of Celtic’s disjointed zonal marking from corners to net with Mario Balloteli completing the rout late on. Virgil Van Dijk missed what can only be described as a sitter, hammering straight into Milan keeper, Christian Abbiati’s arms from six yards out. Beram Kayal, Charlie Mulgrew and Giorgios Samaras also squandered good opportunities.
Lennon said: “I do not think we were outplayed. Big moments in the game changed the course of the game and the psychology of the game. Milan took their chances when they came along. We had opportunities through Kayal, Mulgrew, Van Dijk and Forrest and snatched at them. That was the difference. I think tonight is symptomatic of our campaign – we missed good chances and I am really disappointed with the two goals we conceded from corners, I take a lot of pride in that and that’s the first time for a long time that someone has scored directly from a header against us.”
Despite his side’s European exit ,Lennon vowed to come back again next year for another crack at the Champions League group stage. He said this would preferably be done with a stronger squad.
Lennon said: “We had already lost some big players – Adam Matthews, Scott Brown, Nir Biton – and losing Kayal as well tonight, that’s three midfielders out of five. When your squad is not as big as some other squads it does tend to bite you. If we want to look to the future and continue to play in the Champions League then we have to improve the squad we have now and we have to improve our recruitment for next year. It’s never a forgone conclusion that you’re going to be in the Champions League. We do have some money and we want to spend it, preferably in the January window. We knew when the draw was made how difficult it was going to be. But we competed and we have competed again tonight. We will do everything we can to come back and compete again next year –that’s the target.”