smash and grab

Celtic crash out of the Champions League (again) as Maribor strike late

Only an administrative failure can save them now.

CELTIC’S SECOND ATTEMPT at qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League ended in failure as a Marcos Tavares goal handed NK Maribor a 1-0 win to earn the Slovenian side a 2-1 aggregate win in their play-off match.

The Hoops, who had been defeated 6-1 by Legia Warsaw in their third round match, had been handed a reprieve when the Polish champs were thrown out the competition for fielding an ineligible player.

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Qualifying - Play Off - Second Leg - Celtic v Maribor - Celtic Park Jeff Holmes Jeff Holmes

However, the Glasgow giants, who earned a 1-1 draw in Slovenia in the first leg, failed to grasp their chance as they failed to score for a second consecutive match for the first time since August 2011.

An encouraging start from Celtic which saw them come close through Jo Inge Berget and Virgik van Dijk soon gave way to nerves as Maribor grew in confidence.

The Hoops emerged reenergised after the break and came close to breaking the deadlock when Callum McGregor’s shot hit the bar but the warning signs were there when Craig Gordon produced a superb save to deny Dare Vrsic.

The home side’s failure to clear their lines then cost them dearly as Tavares pounced to scoop a shot over Gordon.

Van Dijk blew a golden opportunity to level the tie in stoppage time as Celtic drop down to the group stages of the Europa League.

Celtic, who were looking to book a place in the lucrative group stage of the Champions League for the third year running, were unrecognisable from the side that lost 1-0 at Inverness as the Hoops reverted to the line-up that earned them a 1-1 draw against Maribor in the first leg.

Efe Ambrose was the only change from the match in Slovenia with Jason Denayer dropping to the bench.

A combination of Celtic’s high-pressing game and quick tempo at the start of the match almost saw them break the deadlock in the fifth minute when Berget’s cut-back was turned narrowly wide of his own post by Marko Suler.

Celtic came close again as van Dijk sent his header from an Anthony Stokes corner just by the post.

The Slovenian champions slowly began to impose themselves more further up the field and a misplaced pass from Stefan Johansen allowed Agim Ibraimi to release Tavares but his shot was blocked by the legs of Ambrose.

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Qualifying - Play Off - Second Leg - Celtic v Maribor - Celtic Park Jeff Holmes Jeff Holmes

Mitja Viler then cut in from the left and tried his luck with a curling shot that Gordon spilled into the path of Tavares. However, the keeper was relieved to see the ball rebound back into his arms off the striker’s knee.

Celtic pushed forward for the goal that would give them some breathing space and almost got it in the 56th minute.

Stokes drove to the by-line and cut the ball back for McGregor whose rising shot came crashing back off the crossbar before Kris Commons sent a trademark dipping shot just over.

Opportunities had been scarce for Maribor in the second period but Celtic had keeper Gordon to thank in the 67th minute when he blocked a low drive from Vrsic after he found himself with room in the box.

Celtic failed to heed the warning signs and disaster struck in the 76th minute when Tavares lifted a shot over a helpless Gordon and into the net after Emilio Izaguirre and Charlie Mulgrew failed to clear their lines.

- © AFP, 2014

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