Celtic failed to make a winning return to the Champions League after a four-year hiatus as they were held to a goalless draw by Group G rivals SL Benfica at Parkhead on Wednesday.
Despite a frantic start, the home side failed to test Benfica goalkeeper Artur Moraes and it was the Portuguese who came closest with Fraser Forster doing well to deny Moreno Rodrigo’s shot.
The ’keeper had to be sharp to deny Ezequiel Garay at the start of the second half, while Celtic had a penalty appeal turned down after James Forrest fell in the box as neither side could make the breakthrough.
Favorites Barcelona top Group G after coming from behind to claim a 3-2 win over Spartak Moscow at the Camp Nou.
“I think a draw was probably a fair result. We didn’t work their goalkeeper as much as I would have liked,” Celtic manager Neil Lennon said. “Having said that I was very pleased with the team performance tonight. We played with real zest and no fear against a class side, so it’s a decent start for us.”
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus felt his side should have won.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy game. Celtic are a hard team, but we deserved a victory,” Jesus said.
In a frenzied start Celtic had a chance immediately when Kris Commons sent a chipped effort over the bar. The game was barely 90 seconds old when Miku set Commons up for another effort, but his shot was blocked and the danger cleared. Celtic were pinning Benfica back in their own half, but despite their dominance of possession they failed to test the Portuguese ’keeper.
However, Benfica, who topped a group containing Manchester United on their way to last season’s quarter-finals, fired a warning shot in the 32nd minute when Rodrigo chased a long ball behind the Celtic defense, but Forster rushed from his line to block the Spaniard’s shot.
Moments later Benfica launched a quick counterattack from a Celtic corner, but Kelvin Wilson made an important tackle to stop Nicolas Gaitan just over the halfway-line.
Benfica came close to opening the scoring in the 62nd minute when Garay stooped low to get his head on Gaitan’s corner, but Forster dived low to turn it round his near post.
The Portuguese side sensed an opportunity and Cardozo was soon off the bench to replace captain Pablo Aimar in a bid to get the winner.
In an attempt to reclaim the initiative Celtic replaced the ineffectual Emilio Izaguirre with Hooper in the hope Moraes would finally be tested.
The game became more stretched with Benfica’s Eduardo Salvio sending a long-range shot harmlessly over the bar, before substitute Bruno Cesar curled his effort just over the upright.
Commons tried his luck with an audacious chip from the half way line, but Moraes was equal to it before referee Nicola Rizzoli waved away their penalty claims when Forrest went down in the box under the challenge of Lorenzo Melgarejo.