Brendan Rodgers admitted it was difficult to feel any pride in Celtic’s qualification for the last 32 of the Europa League after they finished their Champions League group stage campaign with another home defeat.
The Scottish champions clung onto third place in Group B, despite being outplayed and at times outclassed by Anderlecht in the 1-0 loss. The Belgian champions needed a three-goal margin of victory to snatch the consolation prize of a place in next Monday’s Europa League draw.
Celtic will be unseeded for the tie, which will take place on 15 and 22 February, and their possible opponents include Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, Arsenal and CSKA Moscow.
But Rodgers has tempered any expectations of a lengthy run in the tournament by his players, many of whom he feels remain some way short of the standard required for significant European success.
“I don’t think we were spooked tonight, we just weren’t very good in our game,” said Rodgers. “Their movement technically was better than ours. We wanted to start game fast but didn’t. Our technique was poor. The players could not play quickly enough and needed five or six touches on the ball.
“You have to see the game much quicker when you get to this level. Some of the players were short in their decision-making and we were not so good. Some of them think they are Champions League players, but this is a good leveller for some of those guys to reflect on the performance and be better.
“There is a story for some of our players in that they have a long way to go before they can call themselves players at this level. But we’ve shown over the course of this campaign that we can be better.”
Jozo Simunovic’s 62nd minute own goal settled the game in Anderlecht’s favour with Rodgers relieved his side had not been more severely punished.
“The context of the game probably affected our performance, especially in the first half, with Anderlecht having to chase the game to make up the goal difference,” Rodgers said
“They were much brighter and quicker than us. Midway through that first half had to change it tactically to try to stem the flow of the game but I was thankful to get in at 0-0 at half-time.
“I thought we were better in the second half, we stemmed the flow much better, kept the ball and were a threat ourselves going forward.
“Overall, the best team won, they were better than us. But over the bigger picture, our aim at the beginning of the competition was to get through to the Europa League and finish third in the group. That would be a massive achievement for us at this stage of where we are at.
“We have done that. There is immense pride but it’s hard to feel that when you’ve lost. We have a lot of work to do before we can affect that level. But we are through and we can look forward to that when it comes around in February.”