UEFA Champions League
Third Qualifying Round, 1st Leg
Celtic Park, Glasgow
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
CELTIC will travel to Greece next week knowing they face the toughest of tests against AEK Athens after a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park tonight. Despite dominating much of the game, the Scottish champions were unable to get the winning goal they deserved.
Callum McGregor had fired Celtic ahead early in the first half but AEK Athens snatched an equaliser just before the break, and the visitors were fortunate to keep Celtic out in the second-half.
Kieran Tierney and Jack Hendry returned to the Hoops starting XI in place of Jozo Simunovic and Jonny Hayes. The pair were the only two changes Brendan Rodgers made to the side that won 3-1 in the Premiership opener against Livingston four days ago.
The game started a frantic pace as both sides looked to establish a strong footing early on with lots of attacking intent. Konstantinos Galanopoulos issued an early warning when he latched on to a Celtic clearance on the edge of the box before darting for the by-line and cutting a dangerous pass across the face of goal but, thankfully, Craig Gordon intercepted.
Celtic quickly responded with an attack of their own when Callum McGregor broke down the left flank in possession. The midfielder carried the ball into the box and tried to picked out Edouard but the Greek defence had packed the box.
Kieran Tierney proved to be a thorn in the side of the Greek champions throughout the 90 minutes and the young full-back showed his attacking intent early on. His powerful shot from the edge of the penalty area took a deflection before veering into the path of Edouard inside the six-yard box. The French striker had no time to react, though, and couldn’t capitalise on the opportunity.
Edouard turned provider moments later with some wonderful hold-up play before laying the ball off to McGregor. The keeper could only punch the shot out for a corner, and the resulting set-piece almost resulted in a goal when Kristoffer Ajer headed the ball back across goal for James Forrest, but the winger’s half volley was blocked inside a packed box.
The well-drilled attacking play from Celtic finally proved too much for AEK Athens who eventually conceded just after the 15-minute mark. Tierney’s pass just inside the box took a slight deflection and fell to the feet of McGregor. With his back to goal, the midfielder took a touch, turned and fired the ball across goal and into the back of the net.
Forrest came close to doubling Celtic’s advantage in the latter stages of the half. He twisted and turned inside the box to create just enough space, but his effort flashed a yard wide of goal.
Despite controlling the first half, Celtic conceded an equaliser shortly before break when Helder Lopes’s cross from the edge of the by-line picked out Victor Klonaridis. The AEK forward found himself in space inside the area and had the time to take a touch before firing the ball beyond Gordon.
Ntcham almost regained the lead for Celtic shortly after the restart with a fine shot from 25-yards but it flew inches wide of the keeper’s right-hand post. Forrest was lively going forward and Galanopoulos’s attempt to prevent the winger breaking away with the ball resulted in the Greek internationalist receiving a second yellow card just 10 minutes after the restart.
With the extra man, Celtic turned up the heat on AEK but the Greek champions made life difficult by sitting deep and packing the box. Forrest provided substitute Leigh Griffiths with an excellent ball after getting beyond his man but the Scotland striker’s header across goal went narrowly over.
Scott Sinclair came on as a substitute midway through the second period and provided an additional attacking threat out on the left as AEK continued to defend resolutely. Forrest and Ntcham both came close in the dying embers of the game but they both watched as their efforts flew narrowly wide of the goal.
The return leg in Athens next Tuesday night will be a tough one for the Hoops, given the fact AEK managed to secure a vital away goal, but Celtic proved tonight that they will pose an attacking threat to their Greek hosts as Brendan Rodgers’ side look to continue their UEFA Champions League qualification campaign.
CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Lustig (Sinclair 76), Hendry, Ajer, Tierney; Brown, Ntcham; Forrest, Rogic (Griffiths 63), McGregor; Edouard.
Not Used: Bain, Simunovic, Hayes, Johnston, Kouassi
AEK ATHENS (4-4-2) Barkas; Bakakis, Lopes, Oikonomou, Lampropoulos; Galanopoulos, Simoes, Bakasetas (Saldanha 65); Livaja (Ponce 65), Klonaridis (Galo 80), Boyé.
Not Used: Giakoumakis, Brito, Cosic, Tsintotas, Hult
via Europe 2014-19