MILAN: Filippo Inzaghi broke the European goal-scoring record as AC Milan defeated Celtic 1-0 though defeat was sweetened for the Scottish side as they qualified for the Champions League knockout stages in any case here on Tuesday.
It was the perfect scenario for all involved as Milan won, topped the group, Inzaghi made history in beating Gerd Muellers mark with his 63rd strike, and Celtic played gamely while sneaking through to the second round for the second year in a row.
That was thanks to Shakhtar Donetsks 2-1 home defeat to Benfica in the other Group D match.
At times the match resembled a training ground run-out but it finally sparked into life in the second period, culminating with Inzaghis winning strike 20 minutes from time.
And it was a flowing move that set it up, Kaka breaking down the right and feeding the overlapping Cafu who crossed for Inzaghi to score his meat and drink, a tap-in from inside the six-yard box.
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti had vowed on Monday to play his strongest possible side but that proved to be pie in the sky as he changed his entire back five.
Even so, there were six World Cup winners in his starting 11, but that didnt stop the first half resembling a local Sunday pub league kick-around.
Given that a draw suited both sides, neither team seemed too keen to commit men forward, particularly Celtic.
At one point rightback Gary Caldwell moved over the half-way line with the ball and acres of space in front of him, only to panic, turn around and start heading back towards his own goal in search of a team-mate.
No-one was playing well but he was having a particular shocker, at one point running the ball straight off the sideline.
Clarence Seedorf came closest to breaking the deadlock a minute from the break but blazed his shot from inside the box high and wide.
Something was clearly said at half-time as both sides came out with a bit more urgency for the second period.
Within three minutes of the restart, the European champions had twice come closer to scoring than in the entire first 45 minutes.
Andrea Pirlo hit a wicked, swerving free-kick just inches past the post and then Inzaghi latched on to a ricochet from a Kaka shot, only to be forced wide by Stephen McManus before screwing his shot past the upright.
Up the other end Scott Brown broke clear and latched on to a long punt forward but his volleyed finish from inside the area was unimpressive.
It was turning into a real match with Milan camped out on the edge of the Celtic box. Caldwell redeemed himself on 58 minutes, flinging his body in the way of a fierce Seedorf shot before Inzaghi missed a sitter.
A minute later, and with Celtics defence in disarray, Giuseppe Favalli crossed past Artur Boruc in the Celtic goal for Inzaghi, five yards out at the back post with an open goal to aim at.
Shockingly, he managed to direct his header into Borucs arms, even though the goalkeeper was actually behind him.
That would be quickly forgotten, though, as the Italian turned from villain to hero.
Milan dominated the closing stages with Boruc making a stunning double save from Cristian Brocchi and Inzaghi nine minutes from time.
Brown did force a late save from Australian goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac but Celtic never really looked like scoring.
Kaka should have added an injury time second but substitute Evander Sno blocked his effort.
For Celtic, it was their 15th defeat in 16 Champions League group stage away matches a sorry statistic but one that no-one cared about at the final whistle. AFP