CELTIC enjoyed a comfortable victory over Trabzonspor last night in the Turkish Airlines Antalya Cup and will now face either Ajax or Galatasaray in Sunday’s final of the mid-season tournament.
Scorers: Trabzonspor - Gural (42); Celtic - Pukki (32), Bamba (og 37), Balde (57)
Confidence-boosting goals from Teemu Pukki and Amido Balde, plus an own goal from former Hibernian central defender Sol Bamba, sealed the win for Neil Lennon’s side.
The misfiring strike pair have only scored five goals between them in competitive fixtures since joining Celtic last summer and they were determined to shine in Turkey.
Celtic took up the option of postponing their Scottish Premiership fixture with Kilmarnock tomorrow in order to have their mini-winter break, but manager Lennon named a strong team, including a first-choice back four plus skipper Scott Brown.
Celtic started very strongly with winger James Forrest causing problems for the Turkish side.
Derk Boerrigter had a header cleared off the line and Virgil van Dijk forced an excellent save before Pukki released Balde, who curled just wide.
Brown came close before the Turkish side rallied but Pukki opened the scoring in the 32nd minute when he fired the ball into the far corner from 18 yards.
Balde’s cross almost forced an own goal before Celtic doubled their lead in the 37th minute when the Portuguese striker and former Dunfermline and Hibernian defender Bamba battled to meet Emilio Izaguirre’s cross, with the ball ending in the net and the latter credited with an own goal.
Emre Gural pulled one back before half-time, when Lennon brought on Joe Ledley, Charlie Mulgrew and Kris Commons.
Celtic continued to dominate and Balde struck a glorious third for the Scottish champions when he smashed a shot into the top corner from 20 yards in the 57th minute.
The game fizzled out with a number of substitutions being made but Celtic finished convincing winners.
Celtic will learn who they will face in Sunday’s final after Ajax have played the second semi-final against Galatasaray this evening.
Meanwhile, Stefan Johansen’s club last night confirmed Celtic’s interest in the 23-year-old midfielder.
The Parkhead side have pinpointed the exciting Stromsgodset player as a signing for this month during the transfer window, and the Norwegian club’s sporting director Jostein Flo has admitted Celtic are interested in the £1.9 million-rated prospect.
He said: “Celtic are one of the clubs showing interest in Stefan. But there has not been anything more than that, just now.”
And the player’s agent, Tore Pedersen, also admitted several clubs are in the hunt for Norway’s Player of the Year. He said: “There is nothing concrete right now, but I can confirm there are many European clubs interested.”
Trabzonspor: Ayvaz (Ozturk 46), Bosigwa (Yavru 46), Yumlu, Bamba (Keles 46), Demir; Zokokra, Ozdemir; Aydin (Omanpasa 66), Mierzejewski, Erdogan (Akbas 72); Gural (Janko 46).
Celtic: Zaluska; Matthews (Fisher 60), Ambrose (Mulgrew 46), Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Biton, Brown (Ledley 46); Forrest (Commons 46), Pukki (Atajic 78), Boerrigter; Balde. Sub not Used: Fasan.