Former European champions Celtic and AC Milan were left with work to do to reach the Champions League group stage after their play-off first leg games on Tuesday.
While AC Milan will approach next week’s second leg at home to PSV Eindhoven having secured a 1-1 draw and more importantly an away goal, Celtic went down to a disappointing 2-0 defeat away at unheralded Kazakh outfit Shakhter Karagandy.
Two other sides in action fared far better on their travels, Spanish outfit Real Sociedad winning 2-0 at Lyon while a hat-trick by Roman Shirokov eased Zenit St. Petersburg to a 4-1 win in Portugal over Champions League debutants Pacos de Ferreira. Viktoria Plzen also claimed a 3-1 win at home over Maribor, putting the Czech Republic club in good position to advance to the group stage.
PSV exposed Milan’s rustiness, the Serie A season has yet to kick-off, several times in the early stages but still went behind to a Stephan El Shaarawy header on the quarter-hour mark.
The Dutch side more than held their own despite their youth and deservedly got an equaliser on the hour as Tim Matavz pounced on an error by Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri was relieved to have got a draw, but added that Milan’s problems were far from over.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon still held out hope that his Scottish champions could recover from one of their more embarrassing defeats of recent times and reach the group stage.
The hosts, whose traditional sacrificing of a sheep on the eve of the match brought its’ reward, scored through captain Andrei Fionchenko and Sergei Khizhnichenko to take a healthy-looking advantage to Scotland for the second leg.
“I don’t know how many chances we had tonight – clear cut ones as well – and if you don’t take your chances then you make life difficult for yourself,” said Lennon, who guided the side to the Round of 16 last season. “However, it’s not over yet. We have to go back to Celtic Park and we’re not down and out just yet.”