AEK Athens 2-1 Celtic (agg 3-2): Goals in either half end Champions League dream for Brendan Rodgers
Celtic to face Spartaks Jurmala or FK Suduva in Europea League play-off
Celtic have been knocked out of the Champions League after slipping to a 2-1 defeat to AEK Athens on Tuesday night, losing the third-round qualifying tie 3-2 on aggregate.
Celtic fell behind inside six minutes when Rodrigo Galo strode into the box and side-footed Niklas Hult’s cut-back beyond Craig Gordon.
The opener changed little, but a bigger thorn in their side was a second from Marko Livaja after half-time, when the Croatian nodded in Vasilios Lampropoulos’ flick-on from a free-kick five minutes into the second half.
Substitute Scott Sinclair’s header, his first touch, gave Celtic hope with 12 minutes to go, but they only once threatened an equaliser, when defender Jozo Simunovic’s back-heel flashed wide in the fifth minute of added time.
As a result, Celtic drop into the Europa League, where they will face Lithuanian outfit Suduva or Spartaks Jurmala of Latvia in the qualifying play-off round.
AEK Athens: Barkas (7), Bakakis (5), Oikonomou (7), Lampropoulos (9), Hult (7), Alef (6), Simoes (6), Galo (7), Klondaridis (6), Bakasetas (6), Livaja (8).
Subs: Mantalos (6), Albanis (n/a), Kosic (n/a).
Celtic: Gordon (6), Lustig (5), Simunovic (5), Hendry (5), Tierney (6), Brown (7), Ntcham (6), Forrest (6), Rogic (7), McGregor (6), Griffiths (5).
Subs: Dembele (5), Sinclair (7).
Man of the match: Vasilios Lampropoulos
Rodgers’ worst possible fears were realised with six minutes on the clock, when Mikael Lustig failed to cut out Hult’s cross and Galo drifted into the box unmarked to open the scoring from 12 yards.
The response would have pleased the Celtic boss though, and Leigh Griffiths wasted a fine chance to level, but side-footed beyond the far post.
Jack Hendry headed over moments before the interval, but five minutes after it AEK gave Celtic a lesson in finishing when Livaja was left a simple finish from Lampropoulos’ header back across goal from a free-kick.
Celtic made three changes from the side beaten by Hearts on Saturday. Eboue Kouassi, Scott Sinclair and Jonny Hayes were dropped for Tom Rogic, Olivier Ntcham and James Forrest.
With time quickly running out, substitute Sinclair was given space to adjust and head Kieran Tierney’s cross in at the near post, sparking renewed belief in the away side.
But AEK’s stout defence rarely looked like being breached, and only Simunovic’s injury-time miss ever troubled them.
Man of the match – Vasilios Lampropoulos
The big defender was a colossus at the back, sliding in to block what looked like a simple tap-in after half-time and heading and kicking anything he could get close to.
Added to that, he earned an assist for Livaja’s second-half goal – had Celtic had a defender like him in their back-line, they might be celebrating instead.
Celtic are back to the bread and butter of the Scottish League Cup, and travel to Partick Thistle on Saturday at 12.30pm.