GLASGOW City kept their hopes of reaching the home and away second round of the Champions League alive when they beat Maltese side Birkirkara 3-0 in a low key tie at Broadwood.
There was much more drama, but a less satisfactory outcome from a Scottish perspective, when Celtic lost 2-1 to Levante in Trondheim’s Koteng Arena.
The unforgiving nature of the revamped competition means there is no opportunity for Celtic to regain the lost ground. They will contest a meaningless mini-tournament third place match against Minsk at the same venue on Saturday, while Levante will face hosts Rosenborg, who beat the Belarus champions by the same margin
The winner will go into the draw for the home and away second round.
Despite losing their first ever Champions League game, Celtic gave a good account of themselves against the higher ranked Spanish side. Goalkeeper Chloe Logan saved a first half penalty but Fran Alonso’s side were still 2-0 down after 51 minutes, with Sandie Toletti and Alba Redondo getting the Levante counters.
A freak goal from a free kick taken in her own half by defender Caitlin Hayes gave Celtic a lifeline after 64 minutes. The ball sailed into the Levante penalty area and took a huge bounce over the head of the Spanish side’s badly positioned goalkeeper Lopez Valenzuela.
Celtic had opportunities to prolong the tie, but were themselves the beneficiaries of some poor Levante finishing, especially in the first half when Redondo scorned several good chances.
Back in Scotland, the Glasgow City players, who had a very early start to the day, may have had lunch on their minds in the second half of their 10am kick off against Birkirkara. All the damage was done in the first half, and especially the opening 15 minutes.
Maltese champions Birkirkara were hammered 9-0 when the sides previously met in the competition in 2013 and they must have had fears of a similar scoreline when City opened with two spectacular goals.
Priscilla Chinchilla had uncharacteristically missed a good chance in the opening 60 seconds, but Clare Shine made no mistake with a brilliant 30 yard strike in the third minute. She collected a pass from central defender Claire Walsh and fired a brilliantly judged lob over the head of Birkirkara goalkeeper Janice Xuereb..
It was the Irish striker’s second Champions League goal, following one in the 4-1 home win over Chertanova Moscow in the last 32 of the 2018-19 tournament. Shine later said it was even better than the fine 90th minute goal which gave City a 4-3 win over Hibernian in the last Scottish Cup final to be played in 2019.
“Claire gave me a nice ball into the pocket and I took a good first touch,” the 26-year-old said. “I saw the keeper was off the line so it was a no-brainer – I was always going to go for it and I’m just happy it went in.
“The goal in the cup final will always stick in my mind, with the occasion and all that, but I love the Champions League, Scoring in this tournament is always a very great achievement for me, so I’ll probably go with that.”
The second goal of the morning, scored by Chinchilla, was also a brilliant effort. The Costa Rican forward, who has made a huge impact since being signed by City at the start of the year, turned Birkirkara captain and central defender Stefania Farrugia just inside the box before firing a high curling shot into the far corner.
“Pri is outstanding,” Shine said of her team-mate. “She can do what nobody else can. With her low centre of gravity nobody can get the ball off her when she’s in possession.”
City’s third, and final, goal, just before half time, was scored by Israeli Vital Kats on her second start for the club. She wasn’t in the original line-up, but replaced Ode Fulutudilo when the South African striker suffered a late injury.
The second half was best forgotten and City will now play BIIK Shymkent in Saturday’s mini-tournament final. The Kazakhstan side beat Slovan Bratislava 4-0 in the later match at Broadwood, their task having been made much easier by opposing goalkeeper Dominica Rezekova being sent off after only nine minutes.