Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

O'Neill's Men Fall Short as Class Tells

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

O'Neill's Men Fall Short as Class Tells

Article excerpt


Celtic 2 Porto 3 AET: 90mins 2-2

IF SIZE and volume of support had a direct correlation with a team's success, Celtic would give anyone a run for their money.

But manager Martin O'Neill and his club's hungover following are today facing up to the fact that their brave side is still some way short of being able to shout about being one of the world's greats.

Reaching the UEFA Cup Final against Porto may have ended their 33-year wait for a European showpiece and confirmed they are becoming a force in club football, but the clock which shows 36 years since they lifted a trophy outside Scotland is still ticking.

For all their effort and commitment and the fantastic instinctive finishing of Henrik Larsson, they lack the edge great teams have.

There isn't the sort of spark Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus have and O'Neill knows he will have to continue to perform miracles playing in the backwater of Scottish league football to push his team to their level.

But he is still looking on the bright side. He said: "Great managers are supposed to have European experience before they can take a team a step further.

"We have had a taste of the Champions League and now we have done this.

There is no doubt this has been an incredible experience. This is what you aspire to."

With Seville's Olympic Stadium, like the city itself, two-thirds green and white, Celtic's commitment and desire enabled them to come from behind twice.

The team who beat Blackburn and Liverpool on the way to the final held on and were five minutes from forcing a penalty shootout even after losing defender Dianbobo Balde for two bookings a few minutes into extra time.

But for all Porto's obvious gamesmanship and poor attitude, and the weakness of referee Lubos Michel in failing to stop it, Celtic lacked the quality on the ball of their Portuguese opponents and always seemed destined to fulfil the role of gallant losers.

O'Neill, however, did not see it quite that way. Neither did his team's supporters when they jeered Porto's post-match celebrations and chanted "cheats". …

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