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Celtic Qualifies For UEFA Champions League Group Stage

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Celtic survived a second-leg onslaught to reach the Champions League group stage with a narrow aggregate play-off win over Hapoel Beer Sheva.

Beaten 2-0 in Israel, Brendan Rodgers’ side progressed on the strength of their 5-2 win in Glasgow last week.

Celtic keeper Craig Gordon saved Maharan Radi’s penalty shortly before he was beaten by Ben Sahar’s header.

Ovidiu Hoban capitalised on a mix-up between Gordon and Saidy Janko for Hapoel’s second goal.

Celtic, who are likely to be in the fourth pot of seeds for the Champions League group stage, will discover their opponents when the draw is made on Thursday evening.

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Cash reward but defensive frailties persist

Celtic return to the group stage of the competition for the first time in three years and will bank almost £30m as a result.

The guaranteed income will give Rodgers – in his first season as Celtic boss – further opportunities to expand his squad before the transfer window closes next week.

It is in defence where Celtic’s most pressing needs lie, with the side having kept only two clean sheets in 10 competitive matches this term – and none away from home.

Erik Sviatchenko was fit enough to make the bench, while fellow centre-back Jozo Simunovic is still some way off a return, leaving regular right-back Mikael Lustig to partner Kolo Toure at the heart of Celtic’s back-line.

Celtic’s Champions League income
£2.6m for winning the play-off£10.3m for group stage participation
£10m television money£7m from gate receipts
£1.3m for group stage win£0.43m for group stage draw

Night to forget for Janko

The Scottish Premiership winners knew a forceful opening from the hosts was likely, with the Israeli champions going for the 3-0 win that would have taken them through on away goals.

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Janko, who struggled to deal with Hoban throughout, was penalised for the spot-kick and booked for a trip on Ofir Davidadze, although television replays suggested the challenge was just outside the area.

It mattered little, though, as Radi went too central with his effort, allowing Gordon to charge down.

Radi’s corner was met by Sahar’s downward header past Gordon and Kieran Tierney on the line, the striker netting moments after replacing the injured Lucio Maranhao.

In the early moments of the second half, Janko knocked the ball out of Gordon’s hands as he came to collect a cross, leaving Hoban with a tap-in.

Barak Bakhar’s side were now within touching distance of their target but Sahar and Hoban could not convert as Celtic were continually exposed.

Ben Sahar scores
Sahar (top left) scored Hapoel Beer Sheva’s third goal of the two-legged play-off

Griffiths isolated in attack

Top scorer Leigh Griffiths had a frustrating evening up front for Celtic, who struggled to get out of their own half.

Just before the hour he was replaced by former Fulham striker Moussa Dembele, who fashioned Celtic’s first real chance when curling wide from the left edge of the era after driving at the Hapoel defence.

Scott Sinclair then tested keeper David Goresh from near the penalty spot.

But that respite was short-lived as Hapoel reasserted their dominance in possession, making the final 25 minutes a nervous wait for the travelling fans.

The final whistle prompted celebrations for those supporters and the Celtic players and management as Hapoel were left to contemplate their consolation prize of a place in the Europa League group stage.


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