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Celtic weather Astana storm to reach Champions League group stage


There were some anxious moments in the second leg but Celtic showed resiliency on enemy territory.

The Hoops took a solid 5-0 win in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier against Astana and looked to coast along at Astana Arena in Kazakhstan.

But the hosts gave the Scotland side a scare. They won 4-3 last Wednesday but it was not enough to overhaul the Hoops.

In the final reckoning, Celtic won 8-4 on aggregate and found themselves progressing to the group stage of the Champions League.

Brendan Rodgers’ men trailed when defender Dmitri Shomko’s shot was diverted into the net by Celtic central defender Kristoffer Ajer in the 26th minute.

Despite Scott Sinclair making a superb equaliser in the 33rd, a goal from midfielder Serikzhan Muzhikov and a brace from forward Patrick Twumasi shoved the hosts ahead 4-1 with 20 minutes left.

Playmaker Olivier Ntcham and striker Leigh Griffiths erased all doubts for the Scottish champions with strikes in the 80th and 90th to make the tie safe for the visiting side.

When the smoke of battle cleared, Celtic tasted their first defeat in all competitions since losing to Barcelona in Glasgow last November 23, 2016.

But that stigma won’t be felt hard though. Call it a bitter-sweet win.

And that rewarded them with a 10th appearance in the group stage of Europe’s most prestigious club tournament.

After the victory, the Scots will be in the third or fourth pot of seeds for Friday’s draw to be held in Monaco.

Rodgers also deserves to be commended for Celtic’s tough stand in the qualifier.

He has now steered Celtic to the group stage in each of his two seasons as manager, his men having faced Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach last year.

Astana knew they need to pour it out to overhaul their big deficit. They fought as if there was no tomorrow but Celtic could not be denied.

Manager Stanimir Stoilov’s men fought gallantly but they can keep their heads high despite getting knocked out.

They had some consolation though. They will be in the Europa League group stage, the draw for which takes place on Saturday.

But we will be raising a glass for Celtic. For us, they are this week’s best team.