After all was said and done, Celtic simply were not good enough on the night. And however boss Neil Lennon dresses it up, they endured a miserable 90 minutes that saw them crash out the Champions League following a 4-3 loss (5-4 on aggregate) at the hands of Romanians CFR Cluj.
Lennon must now try to get his troops back on track as far as Europe is concerned — the dispirited Hoops now go into a qualifying stage of the Europa League and will hope that they don’t suffer the same ignominious fate as that they did at a shocked Parkhead last night. Lennon is more than capable of doing that, of course, and he started as soon as the final whistle went at a stunned Celtic Park. He spoke of his surprise at the Bhoys’ approach to the game and then conceded that, after all the huff and puff, his players did little more than conspire to throw away the chance of a glorious Champions League run.
“We had the lead and we’ve let it slip through our own decision making. The goals we conceded were 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.”
Elsewhere in the Champions League, there was a shock in store for Porto – who were the winners back in 2004 — who were unceremoniously knocked out of the competition by minnows FC Krasnodar, from Russia, on the away goals rule. The Portuguese giants went into the game seemingly in control having secured a 1-0 advantage from the first-leg. But they were simply stunned to find themselves down by 3-0 after just over half an hour and just couldn’t recover, eventually losing 3-2.
Meanwhile, last season’s semi-finalists, Dutch giants Ajax overcame Greek Champions PAOK 3-2 in Amsterdam to grab a 5-4 aggregate triumph — though there were a good few scares along the way to the win. Former Southampton ace Dusan Tadic fluffed his chance from the spot after half an hour after Diego Biseswar had opened the scoring. But the Serbian schemer did manage to slot away another penalty kick before the break.
Then the ever-lively Nicolas Tagliafico doubled the lead of the home side with 10 minutes remaining. And it was left to Tadic to score from a second penalty with five minutes on the clock. At 3-1 Biseswar struck his second for the Greeks but it was too little, too late.
Erik ten Hag’s men will now play Cypriot outfit Apoel Nicosia for a place in the group stages of the Champions League. They should prevail!