SportSoccer
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Celtic close in on Champions League

Scottish giants close in on first Champions League spot in four years with win in Sweden

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2012, 1:13am

Celtic took a giant step towards reaching the Champions League group stages for the first time in four years with a 2-0 win over Swedish side Helsingborg.

The Glasgow giants took command of this first leg play-off in large part thanks to Georgios Samaras, who played a pivotal part in both goals, and goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who kept an invaluable clean sheet.

Greece international Samaras set up the lightning-fast opener when crossing into the box for Kris Commons to volley home, then rose highest to nod in a corner 15 minutes from time.

Forster then managed to hold Helsingborg at bay, despite intense pressure from the Swedish champions, with Celtic manager Neil Lennon describing his keeper's performance as "excellent".

"Fraser's done his chances [of getting an England call-up] no harm tonight," Lennon told ITV1.

"I said you'd have an audience tonight and to go and show them how good you are.

"I thought he was excellent tonight. We've been banging the drum about him for a while, but it's not for us to say."

Lennon conceded Celtic were fortunate to escape leaking a goal, especially in the first half.

"We had to rely on our goalkeeper. That's what you have to do away from home," he said.

"The second half we were a lot better; we had to change the shape of the team.

"I'm very grateful for the two goals and the clean sheet."

Lennon's men will now be looking to wrap up the tie in the second leg at Celtic Park on Wednesday.

"The job is only half done. There is a big game at Celtic Park to come. Helsingborg showed how dangerous they can be," he added.

If everything goes according to plan Celtic will go through to the lucrative group stages of Europe's top club competition, where they will be joined by the nine other victors of the play-off ties. That could include Dynamo Kiev, 3-1 winners at Borussia Moenchengladbach, but French side Lille have plenty to do after a 1-0 defeat at FC Copenhagen.

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