Riga FC 0-1 Celtic: Mohamed Elyounoussi goal sends visitors into Europa League play-off round
Mohamed Elyounoussi’s 89th-minute goal spared Celtic’s blushes as they laboured past Riga FC to reach the play-off round of the Europa League.
Neil Lennon’s side toiled for large spells against the Latvian champions.
However, with two minutes left, Jeremie Frimpong crossed for substitute Elyounoussi to steer in his third goal of the season and prevent extra-time.
Celtic will face Sarajevo of Bosnia or Montenegrin side Buducnost Podgorica for a place in the group phase.
Lennon’s primary emotion will be relief, after a painfully one-paced display in the Latvian capital.
The Celtic manager alluded to their hosts’ defensive solidity before the game, and urged patience from his players.
And though Riga sat deep in a compact 4-4-2 as expected, he would have been alarmed at just how little his side managed to create.
Nir Bitton wasted the best chance of the first half when he scuffed his effort from 10 yards out, and Ritvars Rugins managed to cut out Callum McGregor’s ball to deny Frimpong a tap-in.
Riga rarely threatened or even ventured forward, but they were excellent at stifling Celtic. They might have been prepared for a second-half onslaught from their visitors, but it never materialised.
Ryan Christie had a surge and shot easily saved and substitute Albian Ajeti twice came within inches of turning in two Frimpong crosses from just three yards out, only for Herdi Prenga to twice scramble the ball clear on both occasions.
But just as extra-time seemed inevitable, Frimpong again showed his prowess with a terrific run and cross for Elyounoussi to edge Celtic into the play-off round.
Man of the match – Jeremie Frimpong
What did we learn?
If not already evident, it was clear from this display that Celtic are yet to get anywhere near the attacking fluidity they showed at the start of 2020.
The midfield trio of Scott Brown, McGregor and Olivier Ntcham struggled to create tempo, and the returning Odsonne Edouard was miles from his best and cut a frustrated figure up front.
Frimpong, who started on the bench, was their best attacking outlet from right wing-back, causing problems with his searing pace and clever deliveries, which in itself will give Lennon food for thought.
Celtic host Hibernian in the Scottish Premiership on Sunday (15:00 BST) as they aim to maintain pace with Rangers at the top of the table.
- 32Natã WachholzSubstituted forBezerra Brisolaat 71′minutes
- 33KamessBooked at 69mins
- 27DebelkoSubstituted forMilosevicat 67′minutesSubstituted forN’Kololoat 90+1′minutes
- 10Rodrigues Figueira
- 7Bezerra Brisola
- 4DuffyBooked at 70mins
- 49ForrestSubstituted forFrimpongat 34′minutes
- 8BrownBooked at 40mins
- 21NtchamSubstituted forAjetiat 72′minutes
- 22EdouardSubstituted forElyounoussiat 82′minutes
- Fábio Veríssimo