Celtic conceded four goals in 21 minutes on their return to Seville as they let slip an early two-goal lead against Real Betis in their Europa League Group G opener.
Ange Postecoglou’s side deservedly led 2-0 after half an hour, through Albian Ajeti’s goal and a penalty from Josip Juranovic, but the match turned in dramatic fashion just after the half-hour mark. Juan Miranda pulled one back before Juanmi struck in the 34th minute to leave the match level at the break.
Borja Iglesias fired the hosts in front five minutes after the restart, with Juanmi getting his second three minutes later. Anthony Ralston headed home with four minutes left but Celtic, who were without a host of key players, could not fashion a clear chance to equalise.
The visitors were missing captain Callum McGregor, Kyogo Furuhashi, James Forrest, Liel Abada and Greg Taylor, while new striker Georgios Giakoumakis was not ready to feature. They were also without an away support, with hundreds of fans locked outside following a decree by local authorities in the city which welcomed thousands of Celtic fans for the 2003 Uefa Cup final.
Celtic started on the front foot and Ajeti followed up his weekend double against Ross County to give them a 15th-minute lead and deliver a blow to the Betis manager, Manuel Pellegrini, who signed him for West Ham two years ago. The Swiss forward deflected an attempted clearance into the net, with VAR awarding the goal after it was initially disallowed for handball.
Tom Rogic, David Turnbull and winger Jota all looked dangerous on the break, while at the other end Hart pulled off a one-handed save to deny Andrés Guardado. Ismaila Soro avoided a second yellow card after a late challenge and the referee further incurred the wrath of the home fans when he awarded Celtic a penalty.
More good play from Rogic and Turnbull had sent Ajeti through on goal and keeper Claudio Bravo brought him down with a rash challenge. Stand-in left-back Juranovic produced a confident finish to put Celtic two ahead in the 27th minute, and Jota had a chance to put the visitors 3-0 up from Turnbull’s pass, but Bravo redeemed himself with a good stop.
Celtic’s lead soon evaporated though, with Miranda netting in the 32nd minute moments after hitting the post. The hosts were level three minutes later after a failed attempt to play offside by Cameron Carter-Vickers, with Iglesias squaring for Juanmi to tap into an empty net.
There were half-chances at either end as the second period began before Betis took the lead in the 50th minute. With Ralston making his way back from an attack, Soro was slow to cut out a cross and Iglesias got in between Celtic’s two centre-backs to flick home at the near post.
Before Celtic had time to regroup, Juanmi ran on to a half-cleared corner, chested the ball down and fired in off the post through a crowd of bodies. Ajeti was denied by an offside flag as he headed home a Rogic cross and the Australian midfielder volleyed against the post as Celtic tried to fight back.
Turnbull’s excellent free-kick was headed home by Ralston from close range with three minutes of the 90 left to play, but there was no happy ending for Celtic. In the other Group G game, Florian Wirtz got the winner as Leverkusen fought back from a goal down to beat Ferencvaros 2-1.
“I’m really proud of the players,” Postecoglou told Celtic TV afterwards. “Against a quality opponent, we took the game to them. They have some quality up front that punished us. The players hung in there right to the end and it was a good game.”
“I couldn’t ask any more from the players, the football we played was exactly the type of team we want to be,” the Celtic manager added. “When you come away from home, score three goals and create many more chances, I think there are some good signs here.”