CHARLIE Mulgrew insists Celtic will seize their Champions League reprieve with their heads held high after Uefa rejected Legia Warsaw’s protest against the overturned result of the third qualifying round tie between the teams.
Uefa’s appeals body yesterday upheld the decision of their control, ethics and disciplinary body who last week punished Legia for fielding a suspended player in the second leg against Celtic at Murrayfield.
The Polish champions won that fixture 2-0 to complete a 6-1 aggregate victory, only for their fateful decision to introduce substitute Bartosz Bereszynski in the closing stages to rebound drastically on them as Uefa declared the match forfeit and awarded a 3-0 second-leg win to Celtic which took them through on away goals.
Legia co-owner Dariusz Mioduski has vowed to continue his club’s battle for reinstatement by taking their case to the independent Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, but Celtic are now fully focused on the first leg of their Champions League play-off round tie against Maribor in Slovenia next Wednesday.
Mioduski has led criticism of Celtic from Poland, expressing dismay at the lack of a response from the Scottish champions to Legia’s pleas for co-operation in seeing what they perceive as justice being done.
But current Celtic captain Mulgrew is adamant the Scottish champions have nothing to be ashamed of as they seek to make the most of an unexpected second chance in Europe’s elite club competition.
“None of this is our fault,” said Mulgrew. “We know we can play a lot better than we did in those qualifiers and Legia were a decent side but what’s happened since isn’t down to us.
“The fixture against Maribor is there now so we can’t go out there feeling sorry for ourselves or embarrassed, feeling that we shouldn’t be there. We can’t affect what happens, we can’t change anything, so we’ve just got to block it out and get on with what we’re doing. Whatever the fixture is, we need to fulfil it.
“The fans will expect us to put on better performances and we’ll expect that from ourselves as well. So we just need to get up and get on with it, do our best and hopefully be involved in the Champions League group stage again. We’ve still got to beat Maribor and that will be difficult.”
Legia based their appeal on the contention that a lesser penalty could have been imposed on them as Bereszynski had effectively served a three-match suspension, held over from last season, by missing both legs of their second qualifying round tie against St Patrick’s Athletic and the first leg against Celtic in Warsaw.
But their administrative error in failing to register the player in their squad for the St Patrick’s tie meant he was ineligible to play in either leg against Celtic. It remains to be seen if CAS, not renowned for the rapidity of their processes, are able to rule on Legia’s appeal to them before Celtic head to Slovenia next week.
“We believe this is not just about Legia but it’s about football generally and about a sense of fairness and justice,” said Modiuski yesterday.
“We will now try to exhaust every means possible and over the next couple of days we will try to ring fence next Wednesday’s games and hopefully by Monday we will have the result of those proceedings (at CAS).”
Celtic concluded their travel plans for Maribor yesterday afternoon and released a brief statement in response to the news from Uefa.
“We have been advised by Uefa of the decision of the Uefa appeals body to dismiss an appeal by Legia Warsaw,” read the statement. “We understand that Legia Warsaw may appeal that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“For our part, we can only proceed on the basis of Uefa’s decisions and the fixtures announced by them and, therefore, we must now prepare for our match against NK Maribor next week.”
The alternative would be a logistical nightmare for Celtic in the Europa League play-off round in which Legia are now scheduled to face FK Aktobe in Kazakhstan next Thursday.
“I haven’t given any thought to that because I didn’t know what was happening,” said Celtic manager Ronny Deila.
“It would be a challenge because we haven’t been able to observe Aktobe. We don’t know about them. But we have had Maribor watched. We have full reports on them. They are a good team, they are well organised.
“They are compact and good on the counter attack. They have some good players as well. They have won their league three years in a row. But you always meet good teams in the Champions League.
“I think we know what we are going to meet and we have to get up to the level in our performances now – that’s the most important thing.
“It’s hard to say if Maribor are better than Legia. I haven’t watched them myself in person, but I think it’s pretty close. We have to step up a level from our performances against Legia, we need to do that. But we are now two or three weeks further on.
“We have played one domestic game and we are back at Celtic Park. We have got players in also and I am looking forward to the games. I’m just happy that we are getting fixtures now, real matches you can learn from.”