AC Milan power past Celtic with two late goals
MILAN (AP) -- Two late goals saw injury-hit AC Milan earn a scrappy 2-0 victory at home over Celtic in their opening match in Champions League Group H on Wednesday.
Celtis defender Emilio Izaguirre deflected Cristian Zapata's effort into the back of his own net eight minutes from fulltime, before another stroke of luck saw Sulley Muntari seal the win two minutes later.
"We were lucky in a few episodes, but it was a positive match in terms of performance and personality,'' Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said. "We started well then we made a lot of mistakes and of course Celtic are a very good team.
"It was important to win and we did that. Even in difficult times like today we react in the best way. In most victories you need a bit of luck. Of course we need to improve and we'll do that working, hoping that all our players will be back soon. But I'm very satisfied with these three points, they're very important.''
Milan was clearly understrength and struggled to carve out opportunities against a side widely deemed to be the weakest in the group, although Muntari missed an open goal from six yards. Anthony Stokes hit the woodwork for Celtic.
Barcelona beat Ajax 4-0 in the other Group H match.
"We dominated Milan from about 20 minutes on in the first half until 10 minutes to go in the second half,'' Celtic coach Neil Lennon said. "We frustrated them. I was very confident going into the game, I don't know why anyone is so surprised. We've got an excellent side, we made the last 16 last year and that wasn't a fluke.''
Allegri claimed before the match he had only 13 fit players available, with the likes of Riccardo Montolivo, Kaka, Stephan El-Shaarawy, Giampaolo Pazzini, Ignazio Abate, Matias Silvestre and Mattia De Sciglio all out injured.
Milan had won only eight of its last 31 Champions League games (not including qualifying) and its injury crisis meant a half-fit Andrea Poli was one of only three senior outfield players on the bench.
Despite its problems, Milan started the brighter and could have taken an early lead - had Mario Balotelli not volleyed straight at Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
Milan seemed in control but was struggling to carve out opportunities while Celtic was content to sit back and soak up the pressure and attempt to hit back on the counter attack.
The Scottish side was awarded an indirect free kick 10 yards (meters) out in the 18th minute after Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati was adudged to have handled a Zapata backpass.
However, with practically the whole Milan team on the goalline it was almost impossible for Celtic to score and Kevin Constant cleared Charlie Mulgrew's shot for a corner.
Alessandro Matri had scored in both legs of Juventus' quarterfinal victory over Celtic last season and he almost did so again in the 21st minute but Forster did well to parry his close-range header.
Milan again almost scored shortly after the half hour mark but Antonio Nocerino's fierce effort from the edge of the area scraped the top of the crossbar.
Milan was struggling to find any rhythm and the home fans were beginning to get impatient. Milan almost gifted Celtic the lead five minutes from halftime when it lost the ball in its own half. Zapata got back but slipped in the penalty area, allowing Stokes an effort on goal, which was deflected out for a corner.
Celtic came out in the second half full of confidence and almost took the lead five minutes after the restart when Giorgios Samaras was allowed to race towards the penalty area before unleashing a powerful shot which flew narrowly past the right post.
Milan should have broken the deadlock in the 63rd but Muntari headed wide from six yards (meters) with the goal gaping.
Celtic went even closer in the 80th but Stokes' free kick crashed off the corner of the left post and crossbar.
Milan scored two minutes later when Zapata's low shot was deflected into the bottom right corner by Izaguirre. Zapata thought he had scored his first goal for Milan, but it was later awarded as an own goal.
Milan doubled its lead shortly afterwards following another moment of fortune. Forster pulled off a great save to keep out Balotelli's free kick but Muntari tapped in the follow up.
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