Swedish success inspires Celtic’s Mikael Lustig for PSG tie

Just before doing his jaggy-arms dance, Mikael Lustig celebrates qualifying for his first World Cup finals as Sweden defied the odds in Italy. Photograph: Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
Just before doing his jaggy-arms dance, Mikael Lustig celebrates qualifying for his first World Cup finals as Sweden defied the odds in Italy. Photograph: Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
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It might be said Mikael Lustig has been there, seen that, performed the silly dance when it comes to the sort of night Celtic need to emerge unscathed from this week. The prospect of facing Paris Saint-Germain in their own environs is as tough an assignment you could wish for in the Champions League.

The 30-year-old is heading to the World Cup finals because last Wednesday he was a member of the Sweden side that defied Italy, and all the odds, to hold the Azzurri on their own patch and clinch a qualifying berth via the play-offs. It was supposed to be a no-hope scenario for a Sweden dwarfed in stature by hosts for whom failure was utterly inconceivable. In that respect, it was an identikit to the Champions League encounter that awaits Brendan Rodgers’ men in the Parc des Princes on Wednesday. In no other respect, Lustig would readily acknowledge.

Sweden, frankly, hacked out the scoreless draw they needed to reduce Italy to the ranks of World Cup finals outsiders for the first time since 1958. After a comfortable first half hour, Lustig conceded, it felt like “65 minutes of added time every minute as we just had to defend”.

Even after their 5-0 pasting by PSG at home in September, Rodgers will look for more from his side than just defending. And he has full approval from the Celtic right-back for an approach that is a world apart from sitting back and hoping to frustrate opponents.

“The commitment we defended with would absolutely be something to aim for but we play such a different type of game with Celtic,” he said. “We [Sweden] had a result against Italy and at times we had to get it up the park.

“The way we are playing at Celtic right now we want to be part of something bigger. We want to develop as a team and players. It is not just about right now, it is also about next season and a couple of years down the line. That means trying to play really good football, no matter what the competition is or who the opposition are.”

There was no hesitation from Lustig in offering up an “of course” to the question of whether the drive for development over one-off results makes a game against a 
£400 million strikeforce that PSG boast harder than the Sweden style from last week.

“PSG have world-class players in every position,” he said. “I think the first game [when PSG won 5-0 at Celtic Park] probably would have been as challenging a night as I have ever faced in football. I remember afterwards we were sitting in the locker room and saying, what was that? I don’t think they had one bad touch in the game. I think we tried to press them and it felt like, okay now we can win the ball but the quality they had that night was just unbelievable.

“It wasn’t just one or two of them but all of them. If you name one player I am going to say ‘yeah, what a game he had’: Dani Alves, Mbappe, Neymar, who is so quick and so sharp, it goes on and on. So if they turn up with their A game it is going to be tough but we want to prove we can play against them and do better than we did against them at Celtic Park. We know we’re not going to qualify from the group now, so we have nothing to lose in some respects, although we do want to make the Europa League.”

That objective really goes on the line in the final Champions League encounter that will bring third-place rivals Anderlecht to Glasgow next month. If achieved, it will be notable but unlikely to lead to the emotional outpourings from Lustig in Milan that caused him to be an internet sensation this week.

The Celtic player was credited with giving his team-mates the gee up to repel Italy when he raged and finger-pointed to his group over the home fans booing the Swedish national anthem, television picking up his oath “f****** c***” , a “gender expression” that his wife, Josefin, lamented the use of, and which he later apologised for.

The player had no need to apologise for the curious cavorting around the toppled Swedish television on-pitch sports desk, a jaggy-arms jig giving way to a karate kick of the on-the-field furniture that had been wrecked by the entire Swedish squad piling on top of the commentary team.

“It was the biggest game in my career, playing for my country, 90 minutes from a World Cup – you’re not in your normal mindset. Things came out my mouth that I’m not proud of.

“But there were so many emotions going through your head – it’s hard for people who didn’t play in the game to understand exactly how it felt. Hearing the anthem booed, that was probably the first time I’ve experienced that.”

The finals in Russia next summer will provide the 63-times international with another first in what has turned out to be a garlanded existence at club level with eight league titles – six with Celtic, two with Rosenborg – since he debuted for his country nine years ago. “Going to the World Cup means everything to me,” said Lustig. “I’ve been close a couple of times but I knew this was my last opportunity. As a kid and as a player through your career it’s what you dream about so to get there is amazing.”

Not that his professional life will allow him to bask in realising so long a held ambition. However much of a high last Wednesday provided, it won’t inure him from experiencing a low if he can’t enjoy a second midweek minor-miracle. “That’s football for us players. I will be happy that I’ve made it to the World Cup,” Lustig said. “But one bad game and you feel rotten again.”