Andrew Smith: Last 32 place would be considerable achievement for Celtic

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Pic: SNS/Craig Foy
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Pic: SNS/Craig Foy
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It is beyond debate that Brendan Rodgers, pictured right, has had a flair for the momentous across his tenure as Celtic manager.

There should be little surprise then that the Irishman should have the opportunity to create another slice of history on Thursday night.

If Celtic succeed in avoiding defeat against Salzburg, they will edge out Leipzig for the runners-up berth in their Europa League Group B that earns a last 32 place in the competition.

Should that happen, it would represent the first time in their 15 group campaigns contested across the Champions League and the Europa League that they would have qualified at the expense of a team from one of the top five Uefa ranked nations.

There has been a relatively simple equation when it comes to Celtic’s prospects of remaining in Europe after Christmas following a European group campaign.

If they are drawn in a group with two sides from the top five nations of Spain, England, Germany, Italy and France, it doesn’t happen.

It is no mere coincidence that they have never been looking down at a club from one of these nations on the five occasions they have secured themselves a future in continental competition following a group campaign.

These five qualifications take the form of three last 16 appearances in the Champions League, and two last 32 Europa League qualification – one earned by claiming second in a Europa League section and the other through dropping down from the Champions League as a third place group finisher.

Celtic have once fared better than a French club in a group campaign. However, Neil Lennon’s side didn’t make it through their Europa League group back in 2011-12 because as well as having Rennes for company, they had Atletico Madrid and Udinese.

As Salzburg’s superiority in the on-going Group B demonstrates, Celtic can come a cropper against mid-ranked nations as well as the leading ones in Europe.

In the Europa League group campaign of 2015-16 under Ronny Deila, Celtic flunked out to finish fourth in a section containing Ajax, Fenerbahce and Molde, all of which makes the possibility of effectively ending Leipzig’s interest in European competition all the more notable.

Going into the weekend the Saxon side occupied third in the Bundesliga, one place above champions Bayern Munich.

The prize on offer for Celtic this week then isn’t simply prolonging their stay in the Europa League this season but rather striking a blow that for 18 years they have been unable to land.