Celtic held by resolute Benfica
Champions League Group G, Parkhead - Celtic 0-0 Benfica
Celtic failed to make it three home wins from three Champions League games against Benfica as a scrappy opening Group G match ended in a 0-0 stalemate at Parkhead.
The home side dominated possession on the evening but it was the visitors who arguably carved out the better chances, Rodrigo twice coming close to scoring as Fraser Forster came to the rescue with the striker clean through on goal in the first half.
Celtic created little in terms of clear cut chances themselves although James Forrest had a good late shout for a penalty turned down after a challenge from Lorenzo Melgarejo.
Neil Lennon’s side started the match looking to continue their winning record against Benfica and began with positive intentions despite the key absence of Georgios Samaras.
Buoyed on by a partisan home crowd, the hosts came close to opening their account in the opening two minutes, Kris Commons failing to get significant power into his shot inside the box from Mikael Lustig’s long free-kick. Moments later, Benfica’s zonal defence was at sixes and sevens from a Commons corner and they just managed to scramble clear from the head of Scott Brown. Forrest and debutant Miku combined well on a couple of occasions and the lively Venezuelan looked dangerous on debut as a lone striker.
Despite Celtic’s early efforts, it was the visitors who had the clearer chances, the home defence switching off momentarily from a short corner as Eduardo Salvio flashed his effort just over the bar.
Benfica nearly had the lead on the half-hour mark as Enzo Perez’s delightful throughball found Rodrigo in behind the Celtic defence only for Forster to rush out well and save with his arm, although the Benfica man had justifiable claims for a penalty as the keeper clattered him out of the way in the process.
And Celtic were the happier to see the half-time whistle as a mistake from Emilio Izaguierre saw him robbed of the ball although Rodrigo was adjudged just offside from the resultant pass.
As they did in the opening half, it was Celtic who came out of the blocks the quicker, Garay coming to the rescue to block a Commons turn and shot. Moments later and it was Adam Matthews with a shot on goal which lacked power before deflecting over for a corner.
Both sides rang the changes with the influential Pablo Aimar making way for the prolific Oscar Cardozo and Gary Hooper and Thomas Rogne coming on for Izaguierre and Lustig. And it was the Celtic defender who came to the rescue to charge down a shot from Nicolas Gaitan that may well have been goalbound.
Celtic had a justifiable shout for a penalty with only 10 minutes remaining as Forrest went tumbling under pressure from Melgarejo. But referee Nicola Rizzoli was quick to wave away the shouts and Lennon had to make do with a point.
It means that Celtic have failed to win in any of their opening Champions League matches and they next travel to Moscow on October 2.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Scott Brown – Celtic: Combative as ever in midfield, threw his body on the line once again for the Celtic cause, combating the trickery of the Benfica midfield.
Celtic: Forster 6, Matthews 6, Izaguierre 6, Wilson 6, Mulgrew 6, Lustig 6, Brown 8, Commons 7, Wanyama 6, Miku 7, Forrest 6. SUBS: Rogne 6, Hooper 6.