It had to be comedic to everyone aside from Celtic supporters that Lazio won this game. For long spells, particularly during the second half, the Scottish champions were by far the more threatening side. Lazio appeared content to leave Glasgow with a point, long before the stoppage-time winner which sent the Italian contingent at Celtic Park into raptures. Celtic’s followers were stunned. Brendan Rodgers stood with head in hands.
Celtic paid a price for taking wrong options when 30 yards from goal. They paid a price for appalling defending which allowed Pedro to loop a header beyond Joe Hart. Rodgers’ return to Celtic was partly based on making Champions League inroads. After two eminently winnable matches, Celtic have zero points.
“We totally deserved to take something from the game,” said Rodgers. “To concede late on like we did was harsh on us but there is learning for us in there too. If you can’t make the breakthrough in the last part of the game, you have to be secure.”
A frenetic clash in Glasgow’s east end proved entertaining but largely on the basis that both teams had flaws. The task for Celtic was to render this a memorable European evening beyond the playing of Zadok the Priest. Celtic have not been in the Champions League every year since 2013 but the wait for a group stage win in this competition, stretching back a decade, looks faintly preposterous. Results count for more than decibel levels and flag displays. Lazio, who have started the Serie A campaign poorly, have been dismal away from home in Europe. They should have provided favourable opposition.
The visitors had looked the more threatening side before the fine goal which handed Celtic the advantage they craved. Rodgers’ team had actually performed strongly in the early exchanges of their first Group E game in Rotterdam, with wastefulness coming back to bite after Feyenoord heeded warnings. Here Daizen Maeda’s darting run rattled the Lazio defence before Matt O’Riley cushioned the ball wonderfully into the path of Kyogo Furuhashi. The forward calmly slotted his first Champions League goal under the onrushing Ivan Provedel.
The challenge thereafter was for a Celtic defence which has regularly failed to convince to stand firm. They were breached before the half-hour mark, with Lazio claiming the softest of equalisers. After the hosts failed to clear a Luis Alberto corner, Matías Vecino was on hand to flick the ball over the line before Hart could regroup.
Lazio spurned a glorious opportunity to take the lead within five minutes of the restart. The hitherto anonymous Ciro Immobile played in Felipe Anderson, who found himself with time and space at the left angle of Celtic’s penalty area. Apparently bemused by this freedom, Anderson fluffed his lines.
From there, Celtic took control of the game. A sign of Lazio frustration arrived from Alberto, who was booked for his vehement protests over the non-award of a penalty.
Luis Palma, a Celtic substitute, could have made himself a hero but Alessio Romagnoli denied him with a despairing tackle. Palma thought he had the last laugh with an excellent near-post drive after a miscued Maeda overhead kick had broken into the Honduran winger’s path. Instead, VAR ruled out the effort for offside.
Lazio offered nothing in reply until Cameron Carter-Vickers cheaply conceded possession and the former Chelsea man Pedro popped up. Finito.