Brendan Rodgers has hailed Celtic’s qualification for the last 32 of the Europa League as a “huge step”. The Parkhead side relied on a late equaliser from Rosenborg’s Tore Reginiussen against RB Lepizig to secure their passage to the knockout stage .
A 2-1 defeat on the night against group winners Salzburg looked set to thwart Celtic’s ambition of playing European football after Christmas.
Second half goals from Munas Dabbur and substitute Fredrik Gulbrandsen handed Salzburg a commanding lead. Olivier Ntcham converted a late penalty at the second attempt to cut the deficit but Celtic Park was already in ferment after confirmation Rosbenborg had held RB Leipzig to a 1-1 draw. It meant Celtic held on to second place in Group B.
“I wasn’t aware of it until I heard the noise,” said Brendan Rodgers, when asked when he learned Celtic had been put back in the driving seat due to events elsewhere. “Someone on the bench then said Robsenborg had scored.” Rodgers said he was already fearing the worst. “The punters were leaving! It was maybe a sign it was over.”
“Huge congratulations to the players,” he added, “Over six games, to qualify is a huge achievement. The best team won tonight. They were dynamic. We did not play well. But what we have shown over course of six games we can play well. I am so happy for the players. They have stepped up and qualified. It is a great achievement. We deserve to get through.”
Goalkeeper Craig Gordon’s botched throw led to Salzburg scoring their second goal. “He made a mistake,” said Rodgers. “Sometimes it happens. But this is something everyone can be proud of. Looking at the group at the start, we thought if we can get through it it would be a brilliant achievement.”
Celtic will be unseeded in Monday’s draw. Their opponents will come from the pot containing: Bayer Leverkusen, Zenit St Petersburg, Dinamo Zagreb, Arsenal, Real Betis, Villarreal, Eintracht Frankfurt, Genk, Sevilla, Dynamo Kiev, Chelsea, Napoli, Valencia, Internazionale and Benfica.