Desmond Kane

Celtic defeat in Milan represents three points lost

Desmond Kane

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Armani, Gucci, Luis Vuitton and Versace, to name but a few, all jostle for prime position as one meanders through Via Montenapoleone and onto the bewitching Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, apparently the world’s oldest and grandest shopping mall, in Milan's Piazza del Duomo.

It is Milan fashion week, an enlivening time if ever there was one in life, but the northern Italian city remains industrial, not much to look at away from the beautiful people and its captivating main thoroughfare.

The locals appear to have a collective pride in their city’s depiction as a world renowned centre of fashion. As much pride as the Milan fans had in Paolo Maldini. Even if the majority of them cannot afford to shop in such grotesque outlets.

Like the boutiques, Milan once refused to accept flawed seconds. These days they do. Like the immediate landscape around the city, the side in red and black are not much to look at despite their storied past of rising to seven European Cups.

How the locals must hanker after the days of Kaka, Pippo Inzaghi and Andrea Pirlo when they ousted Celtic in the last 16 of the Champions League on their way to claiming the trophy six years ago.

Milan's 2-0 win this time around was fortuitous in the extreme.

Similar to the febrile scramble around the fashion houses, the quarrel between Milan, Celtic and Ajax for second place in Group H seems genuinely competitive and achievable for all three clubs.

If the Glasgow side miss out on second spot by a point or two, they will reflect on the three that went down the gurgler in Lombardy last night due to profligacy, an obvious anxiousness and a lack of finesse in providing a final ball to accompany the rest of their creative industry.

This was a cursed loss for Neil Lennon's team, one that should have been avoided. A draw would not have been a welcome result for Celtic in the San Siro such was their superiority, but it is wrong to view them as victims of a mugging.

Celtic got what was coming to them for their failure to score. The goals arrived in the 82nd and 86th minutes, but had been brewing for some time.

The longer the game progressed, the more obvious the outcome became, so typical of football over the years. If you have most of the ball, brighter players and an ability to cut open your opponents almost at will down both flanks, you must enforce your superiority by stuffing the net.

If Celtic had enjoyed such dominance in Scotland, they would have won by two or three goals. The surroundings of the San Siro more than anything seemed to see an envelope of uncertainty descend over them that made unearthing the goal they craved almost seem like the elusive butterfly.

Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons are two figures Celtic look to on such nights, but could not find the formula to earn the Scottish champions a lead they would have merited.

The combative Nigel de Jong confessed Milan were fortunate, but also pointed out that Celtic paid the price for failing to score. It was a view shared by Lennon. It was a crisp, and clipped analysis, the only correct one to make from the evening's goings on.

Celtic are becoming a very competent side having negotiated three qualifying rounds to reach the group stage, but unlike Milan, they lack a Mario Balotelli or Alessandro Matri to make the difference. Celtic were throwing on a winger in Derk Boerrigter and a forward in Teemu Pukki to try to win the game when they shipped the first goal.

Time after time, Celtic found themselves in wonderful positions in the Milan half, but could not translate desire into fulfilment. Anthony Stokes knocked a free-kick off the bar moments before his side trailed. It all had a sense of regret and foreboding about it.

Cristian Zapata's shot was sailing well wide, but nudged Emilio Izaguirre to scuttle beyond the Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster as he headed in the other direction.

The look of disbelief on the faces of the injured Kaka, Ignazio Abate, Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy looking on suggested Milan were more than aware of their luck. The home supporters who bothered to turn up had booed Massimiliano Allegri's side for large swathes of the evening. Their celebrations remained muted at the end even if the players rejoiced like they had won an eighth European Cup.

Milan were hardly unrecognisable in terms of personnel. Balotelli sealed the victory with a magnificent plunging free-kick that Forster somehow clawed out only for Sulley Muntari to bundle the rebound into the net.

It is perhaps a measure of Celtic's progress under Lennon that his side have gone from suffering a Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to lower league Ross County in 2010 to feeling a bitter sense of disappointment in losing to Milan at the San Siro.

Celtic's fans will not expect anything other than defeat against Barcelona, fresh from trouncing Ajax 4-0 in the other group game, at Celtic Park on October 1. But they were ready for that outcome when they somehow won 2-1 last November.

The meaning of last night's defeat will only make sense in time. Such hard luck stories remain tedious, and hard to take.

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