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Celtic's Oliver Ntcham in action.
Celtic's Oliver Ntcham in action.

Celtic crash out of Europe as birthday boy Ivanovic sparks second-leg turnaround

Zenit won 3-0 to end the Scottish side’s Europa League run.
Feb 22nd 2018, 8:33 PM 9,439 18

BRANISLAV IVANOVIC WAS the key as Zenit overturned a first-leg deficit against Celtic for a 3-0 victory that sent them into the last 16 of the Europa League.

Having missed the 1-0 defeat in Scotland a week ago, birthday boy Ivanovic proved the unlikely inspiration for Zenit’s turnaround at a raucous Krestovsky Stadium.

The veteran defender celebrated turning 34 by scoring the opening goal in the seventh minute, powering in a header from a corner to make it 1-1 on aggregate, before setting up Zenit’s third in the second half.

A 25-yard shot from Daler Kuzyaev somehow slipped through Dorus De Vries to double the Russian side’s lead before the half-hour mark, leaving Brendan Rodgers’ team in need of an away goal to keep their European campaign alive.

However, Aleksandr Kokorin bundled in Ivanovic’s low cross just after the hour to make sure Roberto Mancini would triumph in the battle between the two former Premier League managers.

Rodgers kept faith with the same XI that started the first leg in Glasgow, hardly a surprise after he branded their performance at Celtic Park as “brilliant” in the immediate aftermath.

Yet their narrow advantage – given to them by Callum McGregor’s 78th-minute strike in the first leg – did not last long.

After Leandro Paredes’ curling shot was turned around the post by De Vries, Ivanovic lost his marker at the resulting corner to head his side on level terms.

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While De Vries had little chance with the opener, he would have expected to do better with Kuzyaev’s strike that put Zenit in charge of the tie in the 27th minute.

The midfielder’s attempt carried plenty of power but seemed to be heading straight at Celtic’s experienced goalkeeper, who failed to set his feet in time as the ball flashed through his outstretched arms and into the net.

The shot-shy visitors, in contrast, failed to bother Andrey Lunev at the other end of the field, despite dominating possession.

Rodgers’ reacted to such a tepid opening 45 minutes by sending on Tom Rogic in place of Eboue Kouassi. The substitute wasted no time in trying his luck from distance, though his speculative attempt drifted comfortably over the bar.

The tie was put beyond Celtic when Kokorin’s run caught out Mikael Lustig, allowing the alert forward to convert Ivanovic’s teasing centre from the right at the back post.

With a lead to protect and the clock on their side, Zenit comfortably held firm through to the final whistle to secure a place in Friday’s draw for the next round. Celtic, in contrast, will now focus on domestic matters, as they aim to complete the domestic treble for a second successive season.

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