Celtic FC have progressed past the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time in four attempts after a sensational finish against Manchester United FC.
With nine minutes left the 0-0 scoreline looked good enough to take United through with a game to spare. But then Shunsuke Nakamura curled in a stunning free-kick, and although the visitors were awarded a penalty at the end when Shaun Maloney handled a Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick, Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc saved Louis Saha's effort to send the local fans into raptures.
The visitors had settled quickly, making light of the vociferous welcome from the home support, and as early as the third minute Saha tested Boruc with a low drive after dispossessing Celtic captain Neil Lennon on the edge of the area. The Scottish champions appeared content to sit back and soak up the pressure and were almost punished on 17 minutes when Paul Scholes picked out Ryan Giggs's run into the box, but the winger's first touch let him down and allowed Boruc to gather the loose ball.
United on top
Giggs was involved again on the half-hour, swinging a corner from the right out to the limit of the area where Wayne Rooney was lurking with intent; the striker's volley fizzed just past the post with Boruc seemingly beaten. United passed up another gilt-edged opportunity ten minutes before half-time after Dianbobo Balde, making his first start of the campaign, was caught in possession by Ronaldo 20 metres from goal. The Portuguese international made a beeline for goal only to be denied by a combination of Balde's last-ditch tackle and an instinctive save from Boruc who pushed the ball away to safety.
Ironically, that close shave spurred Celtic forward and Thomas Gravesen went close at the other end, the midfielder popping up at the far post to head Maciej Żurawski's cross just wide of Edwin van der Sar's post. Despite the improvement, Gordon Strachan made a double switch at the interval introducing Jiří Jarošík and Maloney for Żurawski and Evander Sno.
The changes seemed to invigorate the hosts with Gravesen and Nakamura reverting to more familiar positions in the centre and right side of midfield. However, after a brief flurry of attacks, the game reverted to the same pattern as the first half with United enjoying the bulk of possession, although they could still not come up with the killer pass or finishing touch to capitalise on their dominance.
Celtic were beginning to grow in confidence, though, and Nakamura managed to get a shot on target before Rooney raced away and fired in an effort that was deflected over the bar by Lennon. Saha, Rio Ferdinand and Ronaldo all had opportunities for United, and not long after the Celtic goal the Frenchman delayed a shot thinking he was offside - but there was no flag and his attempt was blocked by Boruc. The goalkeeper was, of course, to deny Saha again, and United must now avoid defeat against SL Benfica at Old Trafford. Celtic will have no such worries when they meet FC København.
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