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November 22, 2006 2:00 am
The opening 80 minutes may have bordered on the dire, but the raucous drama of the final 10 more than made up for it. This is a night that will live in Glasgow folklore, and not just because a 1-0 win over Manchester United saw Celtic through to the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time.
There will always be a place in football for grace. In a game of uncompromising physicality, Shunsuke Nakamura had looked at times bewildered, wandering the flank like a gazelle caught on the edge of a battlefield, but with nine minutes to go, he arced a quite brilliant free-kick into the top corner.
United could not say they had not been warned: he scored an almost identical goal when the sides met at Old Trafford this season Gordon Strachan, the Celtic manager, has claimed the Japan midfielder is the most technically-gifted player he has ever known; that he could prove it after a game in which he had so peripheral spoke volumes too for his mental strength.
Nakamura was substituted soon after to rapturous applause, but by the end he was arguably not even the prime hero. With three minutes remaining, Cristiano Ronaldo's free-kick struck the wall, the referee Mejuto Gonzalez saw a hand and gave a highly contentious penalty. Artur Boruc, the Polish goalkeeper, having saved at Louis Saha's feet moment's earlier plunging to his right he beat away the Frenchman's penalty.
Familiarity has dulled the edge of these so-called battles of Britain, but this least-hyped of recent Anglo-Scottish encounters was arguably the most representative. Fewer than half the players who started the game may have been British, but this was still a game riddled with Britishness, and everything that suggests in a football context. United can expect something wholly different from Benfica in a fortnight. They need just a draw from that game to be sure of progressing, but memories of last season will haunt them. Then they met the same side in their final group game, lost 1-0 and were eliminated.
Arsenal also face Portuguese opposition in a fortnight needing a draw to go through. They came from behind on Tuesday night to beat Hamburg, Robin van Persie getting the equaliser before goals in the final seven minutes from Emmanuel Eboue and Julio Baptista saw them to a 3-1 victory. A booking for Thierry Henry, though, means he will miss the trip to Porto.
* RUGBY England coach Andy Robinson has rewarded the replacement players who may have saved his job when they hauled his team back from the brink to beat South Africa 23-21 last weekend, writes Huw Richards. Robinson has given a number of them starting places for Saturday's return clash with the Springboks, which is also at Twickenham.
Hooker Lee Mears and lock Chris Jones played a final quarter in which England scored 10 unanswered points for their first victory in eight matches, and the pair now get starts at the expense of George Chuter and Ben Kay respectively. However, flanker Lewis Moody, who played the same period, returns to the bench as does scrum-half Shaun Perry, a later replacement, who again makes way for Peter Richards.
There are also starting places for the men who replaced the seriously injured outside-half Charlie Hodgson and prop Andrew Sheridan. Andy Goode's composed performance earns him the number 10 shirt, while Phil Vickery takes Sheridan's place. It is a measure equally of England's desperation at the paucity of loosehead props and of the regard in which Vickery is held that the Wasps man, a specialist tighthead who scored England's winning try on his first international appearance for a year after replacing Sheridan, will take on the very different challenge of playing at loosehead.
His clubmates Tim Payne, a prop, and full-back Mark van Gisbergen go straight on to the bench after call-ups this week, but there is still no place for another Wasp, Tom Rees, regarded by many as the natural answer to England's long-term problem at open-side flanker.
England: Lewsey; Cueto, Tait, Noon, Cohen; Goode, Richards; Vickery, Mears, White; Palmer, Jones; Worsley, Sanderson, Corry (capt).
Meanwhile, Worcester have parted company with coach Anthony Eddy after eight successive Guinness Premiership defeats. Rugby director John Brain will remain in charge, with Billy McGinty taking on the backs coaching role and former England assistant coach Phil Larder playing a bigger part on defence alongside Brain.
Worcester are nine points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership, having collected just three losing bonus points all season.
*SWIMMING Ian Thorpe, Australia's greatest swimmer, announced his retirement at the age of 24, passing up the opportunity to become the first man to win swimming gold at three Olympics. The world and Olympic champion saidthat he had decided toquit because the sportwas no longer the most important thing inhis life.
Thorpe is one of the greatest swimmers of all time after his size-17 feet helped speed him to 11 world titles, five Olympic gold medals and 13 individual long-course world records. One more gold medal in Beijing in 2008, his third Olympics, would have seen him achieve a feat beyond even the great Mark Spitz, Matt Biondi and Alexander Popov.
Thorpe, nicknamed "The Thorpedo", took a break after the 2004 Athens Olympics, but a bout of glandular fever prevented him participating in this year's Commonwealth Games and a wrist injury further delayed his return. Since resuming training, Thorpe has been unableto rediscover the motivation that helped make him such an outstanding champion.
*CRICKET Brian Lara became the fifth man in Test history to hit a century before lunch.
The West Indies captain reached the three-figure mark off just 77 deliveries - the ninth quickest of all time - during an unbeaten 196 as his side took control of the second Test against Pakistan on day three in Multan.
West Indies reached 509-5 at stumps, a lead of 152 over the home team, who scored 357 in their first innings. Lara's centurywas his 34th in Testcricket, equal with Sunil Gavaskar and one behind Sachin Tendulkar, bothof India.
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