SEVILLE: Celtic boss Martin O'Neill claimed poor refereeing had robbed his side of the chance to lift the UEFA Cup.
O'Neill watched in dismay as his ten-man side were killed off by a 125th-minute winner by FC Porto's Brazilian striker Derlei here on Wednesday.
Celtic had twice come from behind to force the match into extra time but their prospects of snatching a winner were fatally undermined when Bobo Balde was ordered off four minutes into the first period.
O'Neill admitted Slovakian referee Lubos Michel had no option but to dismiss his big defender but claimed play should have been stopped just before his critical foul on Derlei.
“I think the sending off has had a very big effect on the outcome. Four seconds before Henrik Larsson had been fouled on the edge of their penalty area and the referee has waved played on.
“It is very, very disappointing because I thought we had done enough to win it. At the beginning of extra time, we were beginning to look like the stronger team.
“It changed the course of the game. At the time we were still going strong and if there was a goal to be scored we were going to get it.”
Porto's coach Jose Mourinho hit back at O'Neill's claims, saying Balde was lucky to still be on the field after the wild lunge at Porto playmaker Deco which earned him his first yellow card, mid-way through the second half.
Asked what he thought of O'Neill's criticism of the referee, Mourinho responded with an attack on the physical approach Celtic had adopted.
“I prefer to ask if the behaviour of the Celtic players is normal in your country because what Balde did to Deco could have ended a player's career.
“I don't know if I would describe their approach as aggressive or if I should not find another, harsher, word for it.”
Mourinho insisted that his side had deserved their victory for taking the game to Celtic.
“I think the best team won, the team that tried to win the most and played best quality football.
“Each team has to play to its strengths and Celtic knew we were on another level technically.”
Despite the row over the refereeing, Mourinho, who makes no secret of his desire to coach one of Europe's top clubs, paid generous tribute to Celtic's battling performance.
“Each time we went ahead, Celtic were fantastic in their reaction. That is their style. They lost, but they lost with dignity.” – AFP