"That's probably my best performance for Celtic [FC]," Aiden McGeady told uefa.com as he reflected on the game which included his first UEFA Champions League goal and gave the Glasgow side a 1-0 win over SL Benfica to maintain their hopes of progressing from Group D.
The 21-year-old midfielder proved to be the difference between the sides with a strike just before the interval and even though it took a deflection off defender Luisão, there was no disguising its importance to the young player. "It's one of those nights I'll never forget for the rest of my life," McGeady said. "It was a special occasion getting my first UEFA Champions League goal. It might not have been the best but it was certainly the biggest of my career and is all the sweeter because it proved to be the winning goal."
The 21-year-old announced his arrival on the European stage back in 2004 when his dribbling skills drew on-field applause from AC Milan's Alessandro Nesta during a group stage match at Celtic Park. However, the Republic of Ireland international has been accused of lacking an end product to go with his bag of tricks. Last night that all changed and his relentless teasing of right-back Luís Filipe earned him the plaudits of team-mates such as goalkeeper Artur Boruc who claimed McGeady had the potential to be even better than Manchester United FC's Cristiano Ronaldo.
The player himself is keen to play down such comparisons and instead chose to highlight the role French fitness coach, Grégory Du Pont, has played in his recent development. "I don't know whether it's all in my head or just a confidence thing, but I really feel I have the speed to get away from defenders now," he said. "In the past maybe I was trying to beat players with a few tricks, but now I think I can beat them for pace and it's added a new dimension to my game. Grégory's definitely helped that aspect."
McGeady also praised manager Gordon Strachan's tactics switching Jirí Jarošík to the right against the diminutive Léo, while he was given the task of taking the game to Filipe down the other flank. It worked well, not least when McGeady cut in from the left to score just before the break and with AC Milan beating FC Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, the midfielder feels that Celtic are now back in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.
"The manager knew we'd have a lot of joy down the flanks with Jirí against Léo and me up against Filipe," said McGeady. "We knew before the game we had to win and everyone put in a great performance to get the result. Milan's win is great for us. That's ourselves and Shakhtar now on six points each. We've got them next and if we beat them we've got a good chance of qualifying."
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