Celtic hold off Swedes to progress
Celtic progressed to the play-off round of the Champions League on Wednesday following a goalless draw with Elfsborg in the second leg of their third qualifying round tie.
The Scottish champions’ slender 1-0 advantage from last week’s match in Glasgow proved to be enough as they took the next step on their long journey to reach the lucrative group stages of Europe’s elite club competition.
Mo Bangura, on loan from Celtic, came close to scoring against his parent club with an acrobatic effort from the edge of the box before both Georgios Samaras and Joe Ledley spurned glorious chances to put the visitors in front.
The Hoops didn’t have it all their own way against the Swedish champions, who went on the front foot in the second period, but James Keene had a penalty claim turned down as Elfsborg couldn’t find the goal that would have forced extra time.
Celtic, who are seeded, could now be paired with Austria Vienna, Maribor of Slovenia, Shakther Karagandy of Kazakhstan, Ludogorets Razgrad of Bulgaria or Poland’s Legia Warsaw in Friday’s play-off round draw, and manager Neil Lennon was a happy man as his side’s European adventure continued.
“I thought we should have had the tie out of sight after 20 minutes with Samaras’ header which you would have put your money on him to score and then the keeper’s made an unbelievable save from Joe Ledley,” he said.
“We had to scrap a bit. We weren’t at our best and we know that. These are tough games at this stage of the season against the Swedish champions but this was a brilliant result for us and gives us a bit of time to prepare for the next round.”
At the Boras Arena, Elfsborg -- unbeaten at home since September 2011 - named striker Bangura in their starting line-up after he passed a late fitness test, and the Sierra Leone international almost scored a stunning opener when he controlled a lofted pass on his chest before sending an acrobatic bicycle kick just wide of Fraser Forster’s left-hand post
Celtic tried to respond and Samaras should have done better when Mikael Lustig picked him out with a cross but he powered a free header over the bar from 12 yards.
The Hoops were presented with a fantastic opportunity in the 20th minute when Kris Commons’ drilled free-kick broke to Ledley 10 yards out but the Welshman was denied by a fine save from ‘keeper Kevin Stuhr-Ellegaard.
Bangura then spurned a chance to score when he headed a Stefan Ishizaki cross over the bar from eight yards after losing his marker Efe Ambrose.
Celtic fans had their hearts in their mouths in the 56th minute after a long throw caused consternation in the six-yard box with the ball pinging around dangerously close to the line before an offside decision saved them.
And the visitors survived another scare when Elfsborgs’ English striker Keene went down in the box after a robust challenge from Kelvin Wilson, but the referee ignored the penalty pleas.
Forster then got down to stop a low Johan Larsson drive and Henning Hauger blazed over after being set up by Bangura but Elfsborg, who finished with four forwards, couldn’t break the deadlock.