Thursday December 15 2011
Di Natale sinks Celtic

Antonio Di Natale got the goal Udinese needed to reach the last 32 of the Europa League after a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Celtic.

The Friulani just needed to avoid defeat tonight to be sure of reaching the knockouts, but were taking no chances and used Di Natale from the start. Celtic were without Joe Ledley, Glenn Loovens, Adam Matthew and Kris Commons, but Gary Hooper had his first start since September. Hooper was booked within four minutes for a crunching tackle.

Di Natale had a great chance early on when he drew out Fraser Forster, but the lob with the outside of his boot drifted just wide of an open goal.

Mehdi Benatia’s header from a corner also caused problems for the Hoops, but on 23 minutes Hooper sprung the offside trap from a Georgios Samaras through ball only to flash the angled drive inches past the base of the far post.

Di Natale took his chance early from outside the box with a dipping strike that Forster just about managed to block.

Howeverm it was Celtic who took the lead with a huge stroke of luck. Samaras put in the cross, which Samir Handanovic palmed on to teammate Joel Ekstrand, the ricochet allowing Hooper to tap in from a yard.

At the time, Udinese had 10 men on the field, as Emmanuel Badu was stretchered off with a suspected broken leg and Giampiero Pinzi hadn’t completed his substitution yet. Forster smothered a Pablo Armero snapshot at the near post.

In first half stoppages, Di Natale struck to draw Udinese level. Cha Du-Ri nodded a chipped cross back into the middle and Di Natale did not let the opportunity go by, as he immediately turned in the loose ball from close range.

After the break Di Natale’s shot was charged down from substitute Mauricio Isla’s pull-back at the by-line. Forster had his palms stung by a long-range dipping Di Natale strike, then the move continued and the Celtic goalkeeper again performed a fine reaction save on Isla’s header at the back post.

Udinese started pouring on the pressure and Forster smothered an Asamoah daisy-cutter, while Di Natale’s chip was off target. Almen Abdi’s deflected shot skimmed the base of the upright for a corner and Pinzi’s attempt was charged down.

The Friulani thought they simply had to score on 71 minutes, but Asamoah’s tap-in from six yards cracked against the upright!

Celtic went incredibly close too, as Cha Du-Ri hit a splendid volley from the D that thumped the post, ricocheted on to Handanovic’s arm and was about to roll over the line before the goalkeeper snatched the loose ball.

Moments later, Cha Du-Ri was booked for a cynical shove to stop Armero going clear on goal. It would’ve been a second yellow, but the referee corrected his earlier case of mistaken identity in which Cha was carded instead of Brown.

On 80 minutes there were three consecutive great Udinese chances, but Forster denied Di Natale’s strike, then the diving header and it ended with Isla’s shot over the bar.

Yet there was danger from a Celtic corner as several attempts were charged down from point-blank range. Forster went up for the stoppage-time corner, but it went past everyone.

Udinese 1-1 Celtic

Scorers: Hooper 28 (C), Di Natale 45 (U)

Udinese: Handanovic; Benatia, Danilo, Ekstrand; Basta, Badu (Pinzi 29), Asamoah, Doubai (Isla 46), Armero; Abdi; Di Natale

Celtic: Forster; Cha Du-Ri, Majstorovic, Wanyama, Mulgrew; Forrest, Brown, Kayal (Stokes 71), Ki Sung-Yong, Samaras (Bangura 83); Hooper

Ref: Koukoulakis (Gre