Former Celtic trainees Barry Bannan and Andrew Robertson were none too pleased with the performance of Slovakian referee Ivan Kruzliak in Thursday night’s Europa League clash between the Scottish champions and Inter Milan.
After last week’s thrilling 3-3 draw at Parkhead, Celtic went into the second-leg of their last-32 tie at the San Siro confident of their chances of causing an upset, with John Guidetti brought into the line-up to lead the line following his last-gasp equaliser in the first meeting.
Their hopes of progressing were dealt a significant blow after just 36 minutes, however, when Virgil van Dijk received his marching orders after two bookings in rapids succession, leaving the visitors forced to battle through the rest of the match with ten men.
Celtic were further incensed with a number of other decisions, including Stuart Armstrong’s denied spot-kick appeal, but it was Van Dijk’s soft sending off which gave them their biggest obstacle, with their elimination confirmed two minutes from the end when Freddy Guarin’s long-range strike sealed the Serie A outfit a 4-3 aggregate win.
Taking to Twitter on the night to voice his displeasure with the head official, on-loan Bolton Wanderers midfielder Bannan wrote:
That ref has beat Celtic Tonite it's a disgrace so 1 sided in his decisions— barry bannan (@bazzabannan25) February 26, 2015
His comments were echoed by Hull City left-back and Scotland teammate Robertson, who added:
That is the two softest yellow cards I've seen! Not nice to see the striker asking for the booking either!— andrew robertson (@andrewrobertso5) February 26, 2015
Van Dijk himself didn’t hold back in the post-match interviews either following the 1-0 loss, labelling Kruzliak “the worst referee I have ever experienced”.
“It was a terrible decision,” the centre-back was quoted in the Daily Mail. “That is the worst referee I have ever experienced in my career.
“I don’t know why he made this decision but it was shocking. But I watched the whole game and I don’t understand all of the decisions he made.
“What disappoints me most is that they weren’t yellow cards and it happened so early in the game. It was a bad decision and that shouldn’t happen.
“There was also a shout for a penalty and a lot of other things. Like I said, the referee got so many things wrong.”
Nevertheless, Van Dijk also felt somewhat responsible for putting his teammates on the back foot, adding: “I want to apologise to my team-mates and all the fans who travelled to Italy. I let them down and I feel terrible. If I’d stayed on the pitch for 90 minutes, we’d have had a big chance to go through.”
To their credit, Celtic put in a commendable effort after going a man down, living with the Serie A giants until the final moments, but the team will no doubt be left to wonder whether the result could have been different were it not for their handicap.