Celtic, Rangers take different roads to Europa League group stage

August 31, 2019


GLASGOW: Fans light flares during the second leg of the Europa League playoff between Rangers and Legia Warsaw at Ibrox.—Reuters
GLASGOW: Fans light flares during the second leg of the Europa League playoff between Rangers and Legia Warsaw at Ibrox.—Reuters

PARIS: Celtic cruised into the Europa League group stage on Thursday, the Scottish champions later joined by their fierce rivals Rangers.

While Celtic crushed Swedish club AIK 4-1 in their play-off second leg to progress 6-1 on aggregate, Rangers edged Legia Warsaw 1-0 thanks to Alfredo Morelos’ injury-time header after a goalless first leg.

Steven Gerrard’s Rangers had part of their Ibrox ground closed as a punishment by UEFA for racist behaviour of their fans earlier in the competition.

Legia could face an investigation of their own after smoke from flares let off by their fans caused the game to be temporarily suspended.

Also reaching the group stage were Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The English Premier League side, playing in their first European campaign since 1981, beat Torino 2-1 — the goals coming from Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker — at Molineux to go through 5-3.

“This is massive for us,” beamed Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo. “It has been tough so far. The way the fans push us, they are the 12th man.”

In Sweden, James Forrest opened the scoring after a one-two with Odsonne Edouard for Celtic.

That was Forrest’s seventh goal in his last eight games.

Sebastian Larsson then gave AIK a glimmer of hope from the penalty spot but a minute later Mikey Johnston had his low cross fumbled over the line by AIK keeper Oscar Linner.

Late goals from Christopher Jullien and Lewis Morgan rounded off a good night’s work by Neil Lennon’s side in the Solna Arena.

But Lennon was left worrying over the fitness of Kristoffer Ajer, who went off injured early to make him a major doubt for Sunday’s visit to Rangers.

“Ajer has a groin strain, so he is very doubtful,” reported Lennon, who had special praise for playmaker Ryan Christie.

Refugees from the Champions league after being knocked out by CFR Cluj in the qualifiers, Lennon described his side’s performance as “awesome”.

“We have a big one on Sunday, but we will enjoy this evening. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks after the Cluj result but the lads have bounced back brilliantly.”

Celtic were not the only wide margin winners, with PSV Eindhoven progressing 7-0 on aggregate after a 4-0 win over Apollon Limassol in Cyprus, and Dutch side Feyenoord, 6-0 aggregate winners over Israel’s Hapoel Beer-Sheva.

But Northern Ireland’s Linfield were knocked out on away goals after a 2-1 loss at Qarabag left them tied 4-4 with the Azerbaijan side.

Other teams marching on to the competition proper were Spain’s Espanyol, FC Copenhagen and Eintracht Frankfurt.

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2019