CELTIC could be handed a stunning Champions League lifeline after Uefa yesterday launched an investigation into the eligibility of one of Legia Warsaw’s players during the Polish club’s 6-1 aggregate win over Ronny Deila’s side.
A statement on Legia’s website confirmed that they had been asked for further information from the European governing body, specifically in relation to defender’s Bartosz Bereszynski’s participation in the tie. The full-back came on with four minutes of Wednesday’s game remaining, and when his side were already winning 2-0.
Celtic lost the first leg 4-1 in Warsaw and are preparing to learn who they have been drawn against in the play-off round for the Europa League, which is being made today. However, hopes of a route back into the Champions League were raised yesterday when Legia Warsaw revealed on their website that Uefa were now probing Bereszynski’s involvement.
The player was sent off in Legia’s final Europa League match last season against Appollon Limassol. The reason for the investigation centres on whether Bereszynski was included in the squad list for Legia’s opening Champions League qualifying tie this season against St Patrick’s Athletic, which he needed to be in order for the first two games of his three-match suspension after last season’s red card to have been served. He did not play against Celtic in the first leg in Poland but returned, albeit late on, to feature on Wednesday. These few minutes of action could prove very expensive for Legia, who must now await Uefa’s findings.
A statement on Legia’s official website read: “The club announces that in connection with the Celtic FC-Legia Warsaw match in the second leg of the third qualifying round of the Champions League, Uefa opened an investigation into the participation of Bartosz Bereszynski.
“The club is preparing the relevant information and explanations, which will be sent to Uefa today. The result of the investigation will be announced immediately after its completion.”
The controversy recalls Celtic’s appeal to Uefa three years ago after they were beaten in the Europa League qualifying round by FC Sion. The Swiss club were ruled to have fielded several ineligible players, who had been signed after a transfer ban imposed on Sion by Uefa following rule breaches when signing Egyptian goalie Essam El-Hadary.
Uefa ruled Sion had to forfeit the tie but the club’s outspoken president Christian Constantin vowed that the club would still travel to face Atletico Madrid in the first Champions League group game. In the event, Celtic lined up to face the Spaniards.
Champions League rules state that players must be registered with Uefa within certain deadlines and “only eligible players can serve pending suspensions”. Uefa disciplinary regulations decree that a match may be forfeited if an ineligible player participates, “as long as the opposing team files a protest”.
Uefa regulations further state that Celtic could be awarded a 3-0 win, as they were for both legs against Sion in 2011. Celtic would then progress on the away goals rule against Legia since the aggregate score would be re-calculated as 4-4.
However, there is a precedent that suggests there is no cut-and-dried policy ensuring that a club guilty of fielding an ineligible player must forfeit the tie. In 2010, Uefa fined Debrecen £15,000 but rejected a protest by opponents Litex Lovech, who argued that the Hungarian side should be kicked out of the tournament.
Debrecen stressed that they had fielded Peter Mate in good faith as a substitute in Bulgaria when they were already leading 4-1 on aggregate. Uefa ruled that Debrecen had “no interest in fielding this player for the three last minutes of additional time, when the score was so clearly in its favour”.