For all the hype surrounding the International Champions Cup cross-border combat staged at Celtic Park last night, it was the presence of Kolo Toure in the stand that would have been of greater significance to the home followers in the 32,658 crowd.
The 35-year-old defender yesterday joined the Scottish champions on a one-year deal; though with not enough training time of late for his former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers to consider him for Celtic’s third qualifying round Champions League tie away to FC Astana in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
Centre back options may be stretched by injuries to Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata, and the unreliability of Efe Ambrose. However, Rodgers ought to be comforted that Toure’s arrival came on a day that a three-man Celtic defence comprised of youngster Eoghan O’Connell – scorer of a peachy Celtic equaliser, no less – an assured Mikael Lustig and Saidy Janko held up well.
Celtic may have been the losing side, ultimately, but only because the encounter was settled by penalties – hey, the tournament is a US production. This climax allowed Leicester to take the spoils, James Forrest proving the only man to miss in a shootout running to 12 spot-kicks. It certainly brought a degree of entertainment that the previous 90 minutes could not rival – except for a stupendous Riyad Mahrez opener, and O’Connell’s delightful reply.
With the ICC a Stateside production, there was an apple-pie flavouring to the occasion. As sponsors’ logos were flashed up, their names were intoned in the manner that chat show hosts are introduced in late-night television slots across the pond. Really, we needed Walmart, Gatorade and Hershey’s to be singingly sold to the crowd to complete the slice of US soccer.
There wasn’t much else to be tickled over in a turgid first period. The English champions – Riyad Mahrez apart – aren’t great aesthetes and last night was only their second game of pre-season, so they could be excused. Moreover, in recent days, manager Claudio Ranieri, in typically avuncular fashion, seems to have been required to spend his time offering reassurances that last season’s 5,000-1 title win won’t be followed by 5,000 departures from the club.
A friendly – whatever it says on the aloominum can, as they might say in America – wasn’t the night to judge a Leicester lacking Jamie Vardy, who is still recovering from a summer wrist operation. Yet, there was a sharpness about the Premier League winners whenever the sorcerer Mahrez was in possession and probing, or Danny Drinkwater was playing searching passes.
With the trip to Kazakhstan for the third qualifying round tie against FC Astana to come on Wednesday it was perhaps a surprise to see Rodgers give one-hour run-outs to so many of the players who can expect to be involved. Yet, understandings need to be formed. In forward areas that might be happening with Moussa Dembele and Leigh Griffiths both creating chances in the opening period. The Frenchman was unfortunate with a clever bicycle-kick that Ron-Robert Zieler scrambled to block, while his striker partner forced the keeper to dive full-length to his right to push away a lashed-in free-kick.
The second half picked up as the rate of substitutions inevitably did so and it was a moment of brilliance just after the break by Mahrez that seemed to spark it to life. He danced his way down the inside-right channel before curling a majestic effort into the top corner.
Leicester then seemed in control but it was wrested away from them in unexpected fashion when, after the ball bobbed about the edge of the Leicester box, young centre-back O’Connell opened up his body as the ball spun towards him and steered a right-foot shot just inside substitute Kasper Schmeichel’s left-hand post.