Neil Lennon says Celtic ‘threw away’ Champions League chance

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Celtic were through with 11 minutes left but conceded two late goals
Celtic were through with 11 minutes left but conceded two late goals

Neil Lennon said his Celtic side “threw away” a place in the Champions League play-off round by conceding four “crazy” goals to CFR Cluj in Glasgow.

The Scottish champions lost 4-3 on the night – and 5-4 on aggregate – despite leading twice against the Romanians.

Celtic have now exited the competition at this stage in successive seasons, after losing to AEK Athens last term.

“We had the lead and we’ve let it slip through our own decision making,” Lennon told BBC Scotland.

“The goals we conceded are crazy. You’ve got to do the basics well – you’ve got to stop crosses, close people down, get your head on things – and it was almost as if we scored and wanted to switch off.

“We’ve only ourselves to blame. If you don’t do the basics defensively well enough then at this level you get punished. We’ve let it go.”

Celtic trailed 2-1 on aggregate at half-time after Cirpian Deac headed Cluj into the lead, but appeared to have turned the tie around with goals from James Forrest and Odsonne Edouard.

However, Billel Omrani converted a penalty after captain Scott Brown handled and, although Ryan Christie restored Celtic’s lead again, Omrani and George Tucudean struck to earn Cluj a shock win.

“We didn’t compete in the first 45 minutes at all,” said Lennon. “The second half we really had a lot more urgency but the goals we conceded are crazy. We needed that two-goal cushion really.

“What surprised me was our approach to the game. We’ve worked hard to get where we are and we’ve basically thrown it away.

“Now we need to look at the Europa League, make sure we qualify first then take it from there.”

Lennon also defended his decision to start midfielder Callum McGregor at left-back in place of summer signing Boli Bolingoli.

“People can point at that but he [McGregor] did set up our equaliser and had a very good game,” the manager said. “I don’t think the left side was the problem tonight.”

How have the fans reacted?

While Lennon argued the decision to start McGregor at left-back was not key to the defeat, many fans felt otherwise.

John: “Central midfield most certainly was a problem. Why? Because the best central midfielder at the club was playing left-back! Neil Lennon hasn’t a notion.”

Jock: “Callum McGregor is no left back. Huge loss in his natural position. Can’t understand why we had £10m worth of defenders on the bench watching this calamity unfold.”

Mike: “Neil Lennon, you have to take blame on this one. Wrong decision to play your best playmaker at full back. Then take lead again at 3-2 and still lose.”

Zayne: “Defence still needs fixing. If Cluj can score four goals at home then spend some money Celtic. There are good teams in the Europa League if we do qualify.”

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How much has this cost Celtic?

Had they held on, then edged past Slavia Prague in the play-off round to reach the Champions League group stage, Celtic would have been guaranteed 15.25m euros (£14.13m). Instead, should they progress past AIK of Sweden or Sherrif Tiraspol of Moldova in the Europa League play-offs, they will pick up a comparatively paltry 2.92m euros (£2.71m).

There is also a large disparity in earnings from further success – a group-stage win in the Champions League is worth more than 2m euros more than a Europa League group-stage victory. Reaching the knockout stages in the Champions League is worth 9m euros more than advancing in the Europa League would secure.

Scotland’s Uefa rankings coefficient could also be affected, although by how much depends on Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen’s performances in the remainder of the Europa League. Celtic also failed to reach the Champions League group stages last season, but that did not prevent Scottish football from securing its largest points haul for 11 years.

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Lionel Messi, Jill Ellis, Jurgen Klopp and Megan Rapinoe
The Best Fifa Football Awards were full of sophistication, swankiness and the odd bit of tomfoolery

The Best Fifa Football Awards were full of sophistication, elegance and swankiness in Milan’s Teatro alla Scala.

“Patience and persistence are two characteristics that differentiate the professional from the amateur,” he wrote.

“Everything that is big today has started small. You can’t do everything, but do everything you can to make your dreams come true. And keep in mind that after night always comes dawn.”

Dirty Leeds – not any more

In a year when a member of manager Marcelo Bielsa’s staff was caught spying outside Derby County’s training ground, a fair play award for Leeds seemed distinctly unlikely.

But the Championship club and their 64-year-old manager – who called a news conference to explain his spying in meticulous detail – were rewarded following the Argentine’s intervention during their game against Aston Villa at the end of last season.

Mateusz Klich had scored for Leeds while Villa’s Jonathan Kodjia was down seeking medical attention, with Villa’s players stopping in the expectation the ball would be kicked out.

Bielsa ordered his players to allow Villa to equalise immediately.

The unlikely turn of events certainly surprised former England defender Micah Richards. “That’s got to be a joke!” he said on BBC Radio 5 Live.

 

Who did the home nations vote for?

England manager Gareth Southgate and his captain Harry Kane were almost at one with their selections. Both plumped for Messi, Ronaldo and Virgil Van Dijk, although the Tottenham forward Kane picked Van Dijk second.

Scotland head coach Steve Clarke went with Van Dijk, Kylian Mbappe and Sadio Mane, with his captain Andy Robertson selecting Liverpool team-mate Van Dijk ahead of Frenkie de Jong and Mane.

Wales boss Ryan Giggs went for Ronaldo, Messi and Van Dijk, while former captain Ashley Williams opted for Van Dijk, Eden Hazard and De Jong.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill picked Van Dijk, Mohamed Salah and Messi, and captain Steven Davis went for Messi, Van Dijk and Mane.

Man City not at the party

While Manchester City became the first English club to win a domestic treble in 2018-19, they barely registered a mention at the awards ceremony.

They had eight players shortlisted for the Fifa Fifpro Men’s World11 but Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Bernardo Silva were all overlooked.

So too was manager Pep Guardiola, who lost out in the best men’s coach category to Klopp.

Apparently recording the second-highest points tally in Premier League history – 98 – and winning three major trophies just isn’t quite enough.

A fitting end to Milan Fashion Week

Aside from ballet and laser light shows, there were also some remarkable outfits on display. Perfect timing given the ceremony took place on the final day of Milan Fashion Week…

Samuel Eto'o
Former Inter Milan and Barcelona forward Samuel Eto’o presented the best women’s goalkeeper award
Alex Morgan and Megan Anna Rapinoe
USA World Cup winners Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe stole the show with their elegant outfits
Marco Materazzi
Former Italy defender Marco Materazzi went with a velvet look

Thibaut Courtois: Real Madrid say goalkeeper did not suffer an anxiety attack

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Thibaut Courtois
Courtois conceded twice on Tuesday against Club Bruges in the Champions League and was substituted at half-time.

Real Madrid say that gastroenteritis – not an anxiety attack – led to Thibaut Courtois’ half-time substitution on Tuesday in the Champions League.

The goalkeeper has instead been treated for acute gastroenteritis and is responding well to treatment, according to the Spanish club.

Former Chelsea keeper Courtois has come under criticism since replacing the departed Keylor Navas as Real’s first-choice.

He has let in five of the nine shots he has faced in the Champions League this season and has just two clean sheets from six league games.

But in an interview with Marca published on Friday, the Belgian said: “If you want to be a Real Madrid goalkeeper, you have to accept this pressure.”

Analysis

Belgian football journalist Kristof Terreur speaking to the 5 Live Football Daily’s Euro Leagues podcast.

“When the stomach issues were first mentioned, I said he has lots of goals on his stomach right now

“This is the first time that he has played in an open team like this that concedes so many chances.

“AS (Madrid-based newspaper) has four to five pages, like a Courtois special. You feel like he is under loads of pressure.

“I don’t know if he is going to survive this one. Once you’re in the eye of the storm, how do you get out?”

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