'We'll be back' vows Kelly Clark after Celtic Champions League near miss
Gallant Celtic go down fighting against Levante, while Glasgow City reach round one qualifying final
Celtic have '“mixed emotions” said captain Kelly Clark after they fell short in Trondheim with a 2-1 defeat to Levante eliminating them from the Women’s Champions League.
The SWPL1 runners-up fell to the Spaniards after goals from Sandie Toletti and Redondo Ferrer, though a Caitlin Hayes free-kick from her own half pulled one back.
Celtic, on their Champions League debut, had chances but could not find an equaliser to join Glasgow City in reaching the round-one qualifying final, after the Scottish champions defeated Birkirkara 3-0 at Broadwood.
Instead, Celtic will face FC Minsk in a third-place play-off match on Saturday.
“[We have] Mixed emotions, it was an amazing occasion,” said Clark.
“We went toe-to-toe with a really tough team. Missed a couple of chances, could have been a couple of goals up in the first half. I’m unbelievably proud of the group. It feels we were so close but we can take so much from that.
“The huddle before it was the most emotional huddle I’ve experienced. I was thinking about what to say for a couple of days for such a big occasion. It’s so worthy, what the club have invested in us for the last few years, it was so deserved. The first time for Celtic women and it won’t be the last.”
The game could have gone very differently had Olafsdottir Gros scored when through one-on-one early on, but she could only slide wide as Celtic struggled to get into the game and keep possession throughout the first half.
Jodie Bartle then cut a relieved figure for Celtic on the half hour mark when Chloe Logan comfortably saved Andonova’s spot kick, following the full-back's desperate lunge on Sandie Toletti.
The reprieve was only temporary though as Toletti gave Levante a deserved lead five minutes later, lashing past Logan after Caitlin Hayes couldn’t clear.
Toletti turned provider after the interval as she squared for Redondo to finally get on the scoresheet after a host of missed opportunities and put her side two goals up.
Celtic began to press and see more of the ball at this stage, though, and a string of dangerous Izzy Atkinson set pieces caused trouble in the Levante defence.
In the end, it was a free kick from inside her own half from Hayes that brought a goal back for Celtic as it bounced over the Levante goalkeeper and into the net.
Celtic played at a high tempo for the final half hour and had Levante on the back foot, but the closest the Scottish side came to an equaliser was in the dying moments when Atkinson’s free kick flew inches over the crossbar.
Anyone’s Game player of the Match
Celtic fought hard from back to front, but ultimately it was Sandie Toletti that made the difference for Levante. The French international was the only player to show real composure in the key moments for the Spanish side, winning the first half penalty as well as notching a goal and a fine assist.
Grant ‘frustrated’ despite City progress
Glasgow City are now Scotland’s sole representatives in the Champions League after they breezed past Birkirkara.
Vital Kats scored her first goal for City after strikes from Clare Shine and Priscila Chinchilla against the Maltese minnows.
City will face BIIK Kazygurt, who beat Slovan Bratislava later on Wednesday, for a place in round two.
“It’s a nice win but I’m a little bit frustrated with the performance,” said City interim head coach Grant Scott.
“We didn’t do a lot of things we asked the players to do. But as long as we’re progressing through the rounds that’ll do.”
City handed three debuts to, with Mya Bates, Niamh Noble and Taylor Fisher all coming off the bench.
Should City progress on Saturday against Kazygurt, they will learn their round two qualifying group opponents in Sunday's draw (12:00 BST).
Anyone’s Game player of the match
Once again Costa Rican star Priscila Chinchilla stood out. Her goal was simply sublime; collecting a long ball, cutting inside the defender, and curling an unsaveable into the roof of the net.
Grimshaw makes impact as Milan win on debut
Scotland’s Christy Grimshaw made an impact from the bench as AC Milan secured a late win against Zurich in their first ever Champions League game.
With the tie at 1-1, Grimshaw was a 72nd minute substitute, and 14 minutes later provided the through ball for Valentina Giacinti to knock Milan ahead.
They now face German side Hoffenheim in Friday’s final, who beat Valur 1-0.
Kim Little scored a penalty as Arsenal won 4-0 against Kazakhstan’s Okzhetpes in Moscow.
They face PSV Eindhoven in the final, after they beat hosts Lokomotiv 3-1.
Elsewhere, Brondby are out after they lost 1-0 to Swedish hosts Kristianstads.
Bordeaux are the other finalists in Group 2 after a 2-1 over Slovacko of the Czech Republic.
Already through to round 2 of the league path virtue of a bye are Lyon, Wolfsburg, Manchester City, Slavia Prague, Rosengard and Real Madrid.
In Group 1 of the Champions path, Iceland’s Breidablik beat KI Klaksvik of the Faroe Islands 7-0.
Lithuanian hosts Gintra were 2-0 winners over Estonia’s Flora Tallinn.
Group 3 hosts Osijek won 5-0 against Breznica Pljevlja of Montenegro to set up a final with Belgium’s Anderlecht, who took care of Armenia’s Hayasa 3-0.
Home advantage couldn’t help SFK 2000 Sarajevo who lost 1-0 to Luxembourg’s Racing FC Union.
Portugal’s Benfica will also be in the Group 4 final after a 4-0 win over Qiryat Gat of Israel.
In Finland, Group 5 hosts Aland United progress with a 4-0 win against Romania’s Olimpia Cluj to set up a final with Switzerland’s Servette, who beat Northern Ireland’s Glentoran 1-0.
Both games in Group 6 went to extra-time. Cypriot hosts Apollon LFC beat Belarus’ Dinamo-BSUPC 2-0, with former Glasgow City striker Krystyna Freda on the scoresheet.
Wales’ Swansea City fell to a 4-1 defeat to CSKA Moscow in a dramatic game. The Russians thought they had won it in the 89th minute only for Chloe Chivers to level a minute later, but the three goals in extra-time against the exhausted Welsh side eliminated them.
In Greece, PAOK breezed into the final with a 6-0 win over Moldova’s Anenii Noi. And they will meet Norway’s Valerenga who took care of Kosovo’s Mitrovica 5-0.
The biggest win was for Italian giants Juventus, who thumped Kamenica Sasa of North Macedonia 12-0.
Juve, who are hosting the group and whose stadium will host the competition’s final next year, face a tougher test against Austria’s St.Polten after they were 7-0 winners over Turkey’s Besiktas.
FC Twente were 9-0 winners over Georgia’s WFC Nike, and they will play Serbia’s Spartak Subotica after they saw off the Republic of Ireland’s Peamount United 5-2.
Slovenia’s Pomurje Beltinci will play Ukraine’s WFC Kharkiv in the final after both were comfortable winners over Rigas Futbola Skola and NSA Sofia respectively.
Finally, Polish hosts Czarni Sosnowiec are out after they fell 2-1 to Hungary’s Ferencvaros.
There was only one semi-final in the three-team group, and Albania’s Vllaznia await in the final.
Sparta Prague, Hacken, and Koge all have a bye to round two.
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