Celtic stand firm against Benfica
Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Celtic FC 0-0 SL Benfica
FC Barcelona remain the only team to have beaten Celtic in 19 home fixtures in the group stage after a typically dogged display by the hosts.
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Celtic FC, making their first UEFA Champions League group stage appearance in four years, kicked off their latest campaign with a goalless draw against SL Benfica.
The home side's opener to the competition proper in 2008 – against Aalborg BK – had also ended 0-0, though this particular encounter did not always seem destined to close in stalemate. Neil Lennon's side started and finished strongly but survived some scares of their own to ensure a fourth straight European Cup clean sheet at home to these particular Portuguese visitors.
Both lineups contained surprises, with strikers Gary Hooper and Óscar Cardozo beginning on the bench. Celtic opened up purposefully with Charlie Mulgrew and Mikael Lustig providing an aerial threat from a series of early corners. Kris Commons buzzed around energetically behind competition debutant Nicolás Fedor, yet as the first period unfolded, Benfica's extra man in midfield started to tell.
The Eagles had the first real opportunity on 32 minutes when a through ball from Enzo Peréz found Rodrigo racing through on goal. Fraser Forster raced off his line and smothered the young Spaniard's tame effort.
Celtic showed more zest after the break with Commons's darting runs keeping the Benfica defence on their toes. The hitherto muted James Forrest also began to cause Melgarejo problems on the right, albeit without any significant end product. Benfica still looked dangerous on the counter and a neat move between Pablo Aimar, Rodrigo and Nicolás Gaitán culminated in Ezequiel Garay's near-post header from a corner which Forster did well to punch away.
Both managers made changes soon after the hour, Thomas Rogne replacing the injured Lustig and Cardozo coming on for Aimar. Minutes later Emilio Izaguirre made way for Hooper as Celtic pressed for the breakthrough. Commons was particularly menacing, peppering shots in from all angles, most notably an audacious chip from the halfway line which almost caught Artur off guard.
Celtic now had real momentum but despite sustained pressure in the closing ten minutes they were unable to break the deadlock and remain without an opening-day victory in seven group stage appearances. Next up for the Scottish champions is a trip to FC Spartak Moskva on 2 October, when Jorge Jesus's charges play host to Group G leaders FC Barcelona.