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Football

Three off as Celtic beat Barcelona


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Barcelona players link arms in tribute to victims of the Madrid bomb blasts.

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GLASGOW, Scotland -- Three players were sent off as Celtic beat Barcelona 1-0 in their UEFA Cup fourth round first leg tie at Parkhead on Thursday.

Alan Thompson scored the only goal in the 59th minute for last season's beaten UEFA finalists.

Barca's Thiago Motta and Celtic's Rab Douglas were shown red for a half-time fracas in the tunnel, with Javier Saviola going in the 49th minute for hacking down Thompson.

The match had begun on a somber note with a minute's silence for the Madrid bomb victims.

Despite their lead, Celtic will not enter the Nou Camp in a fortnight's time in overly confident mood, particularly as they will be without Bobo Balde, who will be suspended as a result of his second half yellow card.

For the time that both sides had 11 men on the pitch, Celtic may have dominated territorially but they never created anything like the quality of opportunity the visitors generated.

Even in the wake of Thompson's goal, Barcelona's defence managed to cope fairly comfortably with Celtic's attacking threat, restricting their hosts to a solitary chance that Henrik Larsson pushed wide of the post.

Tipped to move to Barcelona in the summer, Larsson had every motivation to impress.

But it was the young Scotland midfielder Stephen Pearson who proved to be Celtic's most impressive performer and it was him who provided their first hint of menace, flashing a crisp drive narrowly wide in the 12th minute.

Having weathered Celtic's opening burst, Barcelona should have gone ahead in the 25th minute. A long sequence of passes suddenly accelerated into one-touch exchanges that finished with Motta putting Saviola into a one-on-one with Douglas which the Argentinian flunked, pushing his shot a yard wide of the post.

Ten minutes later Ronaldinho was equally profligate after breaking clear of the Celtic back four in the inside left channel only to pull his shot across Douglas's goal.

Four minutes later, only a superb last-ditch intervention from Jackie McNamara prevented Luis Garcia from connecting with Ronaldinho's cross after the Brazilian had wriggled free of Didier Agathe on the byline.

Douglas's departure forced Martin O'Neill to bring on David Marshall and the young goalkeeper's first touch should have been to pick the ball out of the net after the Celtic defence were caught napping by a long clearance.

Saviola managed to hold off both McNamara and Stanislav Varga but the Argentinian's shot trickled wide and his frustration became apparent barely a minute later when he lost out in a 50-50 challenge with Thompson.

As the English midfielder came away with the ball he was felled from behind by a malicious hack at his calf that could earn Saviola more than the mandatory one-match ban.

Thompson extracted his revenge in the best possible fashion just before the hour mark.

Larsson got between Michael Reiziger and Carlos Puyol to knock down Petrov's cross and Thompson was there to sent to sent a left-foot volley past Valdes.

UEFA go ahead

The four matches involving Spanish teams, including Villarreal's 2-0 home win over AS Roma, got the go-ahead from UEFA despite calls for their postponement following the Madrid bomb outrages.

They were preceded by a minute's silence with players wearing black armbands as a mark of respect for the victims.

Striker Didier Drogba grabbed a precious away goal for Olympique Marseille to secure a 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield and hand the French side a slight advantage for the return at the Stade Velodrome.

Czech Milan Baros gave Gerard Houllier's side the lead 10 minutes into the second half but Drogba, who said he was "worn out" after Marseille's win in the last round, netted the equaliser from close range 12 minutes from time.

Three-times UEFA Cup winners Inter Milan ground out a goalless draw in Lisbon against Benfica and Ligue 1 AJ Auxerre were held 1-1 at home by Dutch side PSV Eindhoven.

The second legs take place on March 25.


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