By Stanislav Hlaváček
FC Artmedia Bratislava truly announced themselves on the European stage with a stunning UEFA Champions League second qualifying round first-leg victory against Celtic FC.
The 1967 European champions have been group stage regulars in recent seasons, and also reached the 2003 UEFA Cup final. But they will require an improbable result after Artmedia, who needed a last-gasp extra-time goal a week ago to knock out FC Kairat Almaty in their first-ever tie in this competition, gained this thoroughly deserved win, helped by a hat-trick from Slovakian Under-21 international Juraj Halenár.
Having had to move the game to SK Slovan Bratislava's Tehelné Pole stadium across the Danube, Artmedia were roared on by a noisy 17,632 crowd. On 17 minutes Celtic received a further blow when influential forward Chris Sutton was taken off with a suspected fractured cheekbone. Aiden McGeady was his replacement, but Celtic were put under pressure and David Marshall did well to save a Blažej Vašcák effort.
Halenár, who only signed last Friday from AŠK Inter Bratislava and was sent off on his Artmedia bow the next day, ensured it would be a dream European debut with a goal two minutes before half-time after being set up by Ján Kozák and Vašcák.
Celtic were expect to respond strongly after the break but it was Artmedia who dominated. In the 57th minute Halenár returned the favour to Vašcák for the opening goal, setting up his team-mate to tap into an empty net. New Celtic manager Gordon Strachen sent on Shaun Maloney and Jérémie Aliadière for Maciej Zurawski and Alan Thompson, and both substitutes had chances, without hitting the target.
Instead, Halenár volleyed in Kozák's 76th-minute corner to extend the lead and two minutes later substitute Martin Mikulic found himself unmarked and, just six minutes after arriving, made it 4-0. Peter Burák and Pavol Staňo were sent on by Vladimír Weiss to join the Artmedia party, but it was Halenár who had the last word in added time with a great solo effort.
It is a long time since a Slovakian side enjoyed such a result, and not only can they look forward to their Tuesday trip to Glasgow, but can also be forgiven for also taking a keen interest in Friday's third qualifying round draw where, thanks to Celtic's coefficient, the winners of this tie will be seeded.