Celtic can sit back, relax and enjoy flight to Kazakhstan
No wonder Celtic have a four leaf clover on the their badge. Helped by an own goal for the first, a break of the ball for the second and refereeing leniency for the third, Celtic planted both foot firmly in the group stage of the Champions League.
No one was complaining. And it wasn’t as if they didn’t deserve such good fortune, overcoming initial uncertainty to secure a victory that was more handsome than they could have dared dream about before the kick-off.
The Celtic players can now make full use of those reclining seats in their chartered plane for the six-hour flight to Kazakhstan next week.
There was plenty of trepidation before Tom Rogic did that thing he does when creating the illusion of having the ball tied to his boot with string. It’s more impressive than anything at the Edinburgh Fringe this month.
Scott Sinclair followed his lead, pouncing on the chance to put Celtic two up just before the break. Their enemy, thereafter, was thinking the job was already done. Wise to this, they piled on the agony for Astana.
Brendan Rodgers implored his players to get a third goal after the break. They did more than that. Rogic lay flattened on the halfway line after a clash of heads with Yuri Logvinenko but Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan allowed play to continue. Griffiths nicked the ball into the path of Sinclair, who finished superbly again.
Game over. Two more goals, from James Forrest and an own goal forced by Griffiths, meant the tie is now over, too.
Celtic could barely believe the position they found themselves at the end having endured some anxious moments in the opening stages. While not exactly living dangerously, Celtic were hardly living up to the exhortations from the Green Brigade, who unveiled an Ultimate Fighting Championship-inspired banner before kick-off, proclaiming: “We’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over”.
They’d borrowed this line from Dublin huckster Conor McGregor. It’s hardly Shankly, or even Stein. But at least it is unlikely to have had the Uefa observer licking the end of his pencil, ready to mark down another fine for the club – not unless there are new rules about quoting glib rattle from Irish UFC fighters.
We do of course have to take McGregor seriously, particularly since the winner of his upcoming bout with Floyd Mayweather is set to make around £200 million.
The sum dwarfs what Celtic are bidding to gain from overcoming Astana, which is estimated to be around £25m. Sometimes even the Champions League has to defer to other money-making sports operations.
But it still translates as a pretty package for Celtic – and a nice earner for other top-flight Scottish clubs, set to earn around £200,000 if – when – the Parkhead club qualify for the group stage.
Celtic were transferring the ball around in the confident manner of those knowing they’d seen off those tense opening moments, when the home side looked vulnerable. An exaggerated back heel meant for Forrest from Griffiths was like one of those seen in a schoolboy game.
Mikael Lustig then tried one, too. Rather than impress anyone, it set up an Astana attack.
Needing inspiration, Celtic relied on the man who so often drags them out of such tricky situations. Rogic slalomed into the box to open the scoring, re-tracing the steps taken across the city at Hampden in May to win the Scottish Cup for his side. There was not an ancient trophy at stake here. Just glamour and dough, lots of lovely dough. Conor McGregor, for one, would appreciate the sentiment.