Celtic Cruise to Victory in Champions League Qualifier

Celtic secured a satisfactory 2-0 home win in the first leg of their second round Champions League qualifying tie against Icelandic side Stjarnan last night.

The part-timers travelled to Parkhead and frustrated the Scottish league champions for long periods of the first half before Dedrick Boyata headed in the opener from a Stefan Johansen cross just before the half-time whistle. Former Man City defender Boyata was making his competitive debut for the Hoops.

Norwegian midfielder Johansen then made it 2-0 early in the second period. Celtic appeared lethargic at times and the tie was almost a pre-season exercise for Ronny Delia’s men who had only played three pre-season games before last night.

The rustiness of the side was exemplified by last season’s main striker and top scorer Leigh Griffiths missing a late penalty to make it 3-0 and put the tie to bed. Griffiths hadn’t started the game as recent signing Nadir Ciftci took his place up-front.

It didn’t make a difference though as Celtic dominated from the off as James Forrest looked lively on the wing after he was a late replacement for Gary Mackay-Steven who was injured in the warm-up.

Former Motherwell goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen had a busy night between the sticks for the Icelandic champions. It was a sign of things to come for Nielsen when Ciftci had a chance to open the scoring after less than 10 minutes with shot from just inside the area which the net-minder saved with his feet.

Johansen had teed up the striker for the opening chance and he then had an opportunity himself as he breached the Stjarnan defence as his shot from the penalty spot was scuffed wide in a poor attempt.

Despite holding two-thirds possession and setting up camp on the edge of the visitor’s box, the Celtic Park crowd were becoming restless as Ciftci and Stuart Armstrong missed another couple of guilt edged chances. But their tensions were eased in the 44th minute as a short corner led to Boyata coming in at the back post to rise highest and head a bullet into the net.

Ciftci missed another couple of point blank headers to put the Scots in a commanding position. His poor showing in front of goal was compounded as he was then replaced by Anthony Stokes late on.

Ciftci made way though after Celtic has ensured victory. 10 minutes after half-time Armstrong and Johansen combined for the Norwegian to show his Turkish striker how it was done and calmly slot past Nielsen.

Delia’s men then had the opportunity to make the second leg next week a formality with Griffith’s penalty. His poorly taken spot-kick was comfortable saved by the Icelandic goalkeeper.

Celtic will look to negotiate next Wednesday’s second leg without much fuss as they desperately try to come through the qualifying rounds and make it to the lucrative group stage to ease some of their financial woes.

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