RONNY Deila last night pinned the blame for Celtic’s elimination from the Europa League squarely at the door of referee Ivan Kruzliak.
The Scottish champions played for almost an hour with just ten men in the San Siro after Virgil van Dijk was sent off for two bookable offences in the first half of the second leg of the last-32 tie against Inter Milan.
Slovakian official Kruzliak booked five other Celtic players and rejected two penalty claims for the visitors when Stuart Armstrong and John Guidetti went down in the area while the teams were still evenly matched numerically. But it was the dismissal of Dutch defender Van Dijk, for fouls on Rodrigo Palacio and Mauro Icardi in quick succession, which knocked the wind out of Celtic’s sails and restricted their efforts to turn the tie in their favour following the 3-3 draw in the first leg.
An 88th-minute goal from Inter midfielder Fredy Guarin earned the Italian side a 4-3 aggregate success and left Deila simmering with resentment at Kruzliak’s performance.
“The sending off was very cheap,” said Deila. “The ref had a bad day at work. If we had had such a bad day, we would have lost 6-0 tonight. I don’t need to say any more about him.
“It’s a very disappointed gang of players in the dressing room. I feel very sorry for them but I’m very proud of them. We made a very good performance for 90 minutes. When we had 11 players against 11 we had control of the game. It’s tough to take.”
“The ref had a bad day at work. If we had had such a bad day, we would have lost 6-0 tonight.”Ronny Deila
The night struck another sour note for Celtic when, despite pre-match warnings and a plea for self-policing from Deila, flares were set off among the 3,500-strong travelling support.
The Inter fans also ignited flares and both clubs now face disciplinary action from Uefa if, as expected, the incidents are mentioned in the report of Portuguese match delegate Alvaro Albino. Celtic were fined £7,300 earlier this week for flares being let off during their Europa League group-stage tie against Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia in December, the Parkhead club’s eighth fine from Uefa in as many years. “That’s very disappointing,” said Deila in reaction to last night’s latest incident. “We have to get rid of this, it’s nothing to do with football. The fans were unbelievable today but, again, they have to behave in the right way.”
Celtic’s focus for the rest of the season will now be on their bid to win the domestic treble, starting off with Sunday’s home game against nearest Premiership rivals Aberdeen. Deila is determined his players will recover quickly from last night.
“It just has to give us motivation to get back on this stage next season,” he said. “I think we showed we have something to do at this level. Now we have to use that in domestic football.
“Before the red card, we saw we can do something at this level. But there were things which happened in the game which ruined it for us.”
Inter coach Roberto Mancini admitted Van Dijk’s dismissal had been a key factor. “The sending off obviously made our life easier but I think we had chances to score before that,” said Mancini. “In matches it’s down to luck sometimes, sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad. Overall I think we deserved what we got.”
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