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FOOTBALL: MOMENT THAT LEFT US SICK; Game takes a back seat to Larsson nightmare.

THERE are times when you leave a game of football walking on air.

There are other times when you walk out a stadium feeling sick to the bottom of your stomach.

Last night in Lyon was one such night.

It didn't matter a jot that Celtic had lost a UEFA Cup tie here in the heart of France.

What did matter and what would remain in the memory long after the result is forgotten was the sight of Henrik Larsson lying stricken on the turf with his left shin sticking out of his sock at an impossible angle.

The game was only 11 minutes old when the Swede, back helping out his defence, threw himself into a challenge and caught his studs in the turf.

You couldn't actually hear the snap but from the reaction of those around him, you knew that some of the players did.

Lubo Moravcik signalled frantically to the bench and club doctors Roddie MacDonald and Jack Mulhearn leapt onto the pitch with physio Brian Scott to tend to their player.

Larsson was placed gingerly onto a stretcher and wrapped in blankets before being led away from the ground.

Right there and then there was a genuine fear that this wonderfully talented player's career could be at stake.

Memories of the horrendous injury suffered by Coventry's David Busst came flooding into the mind and you could only sit and pray that Larsson's wasn't as bad.

Even before the game was finished, Lyon officials had announced that the striker had suffered a double fracture.

By that time Larsson was lying in the city's Eduard Herriot Hospital before being released in time to fly home with the Celtic party in the early hours of the morning.

The Celtic PARTY? That'll be right. This was more like a wake. Not a soul who dragged their weary limbs on board was thinking of anything other than Larsson.

Parkhead coach John Barnes admitted that any sense of achievement at having escaped Lyon with their hopes of success intact had been ruined by the injury.

He said: "You could tell straight away that it was serious and it has put a massive dampener on the night.

"Not just because it is Henrik and he is an important player for us, but because this kind of thing has happened to any player.

"We lost the game 1-0 but even if we had won 1-0 or 2-0, it would still have put a huge dampener on it.

"Henrik just chased the full- back, as he does, and I don't know if his studs caught on the turf but the players' reaction told me it was serious.

"Everyone is concerned for him. His welfare and well being are the most important things right now."

Celtic skipper Paul Lambert said: "It is a shocker and it is very sad - a tragedy.

"When he first went down I didn't think anything of it, then I looked at his leg and thought: 'Jesus'. It was not a nice sight.

"We knew his leg was broken and we just hope everything will be OK.

"It's a major blow to lose him because he is a fantastic player and it is a terrible shame.

"We had a lot of things going against us in the game but we have come through the tie and still have a real chance."

The French player who was involved in the Larsson incident, Serge Blanc, who went on to score their winning goal, spoke of his dismay at the injury suffered by the Swede.

He said: "It was an accident. There was a little contact between us but nothing that should have caused that kind of injury.

"I feel very bad because I saw that his leg was open. I saw it and I had to turn away.

"When you see an injury like that it breaks your heart."

Lyon manager Bernard Lacombe also passed on his best wishes to the Celtic striker.

He said: "It's a real shame to lose a player like that.

"He will have a hard time now but I hope he comes back. I want to send Henrik my best wishes."

As well as Larsson's horrific injury, Celtic also suffered from a refereeing decision by Dutch whistler Rene Temmink that could have given them a penalty and seen Lyon goalkeeper Gregory Coupet red-carded.

Larsson's replacement Mark Burchill had rounded the keeper when he was sent sprawling and afterwards the teenager was still raging.

He said: "It was definitely a penalty. No doubt.

"I was round the keeper, so why would I dive? I was just about to kick it into the net.

"I couldn't believe the decision. I was past him, he brought me down, yet I got booked."

Larsson's injury may give Burchill an extended run in the team but that was the last thing on the teenager's mind last night as he reflected on the horror he witnessed.

He added: "Nobody wants to get into the team that way. Henrik's a fantastic player and we want him in the team.

"I was warming up alongside Harald Brattbakk and at first I thought the Lyon player had gone in to do Henrik, but then I noticed that Henrik had twisted badly.

"It's obviously a terrible injury and all we can hope is that he comes back soon."

The incident completely overshadowed a gutsy performance from Celtic, who are still very much in the tie against the team which sits second-top of the French First Division.

Burchill added: "We showed we can create chances - in fact I should have scored in the second half but I was too deliberate with my shot.

"However, we have no fears about bringing them back to Celtic Park."

Lambert agreed with that assessment, saying: "We did very well and were a bit unfortunate.

"We have given ourselves a chance.

"We could have had a penalty and we gave them one chance and they scored.

"The guy could stand where he was with 100 balls and not score that goal again."

Barnes added: "We are still very much in it and we will attack them more at Celtic Park.

"We had chances tonight and Mark was very disappointed to be booked for diving.

"If you are us, you are looking for a penalty and a red card in that situation. If you are them, you are looking for a booking for diving.

"Mark has apologised to us for going round their keeper, getting kicked, falling to the ground and getting booked."

On any other night, that decision would have dominated the Celtic players' thoughts.

Last night, they suffered a much worse fate than that.

Henrik Larsson is the man in agony, but everyone at Parkhead shares his pain.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 22, 1999
Previous Article:Football: Toon men two good.
Next Article:Football: CELTS DON'T TAKE IT LYON DOWN; Scots shrug off Larsson blow to keep hopes alive.

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