Milos Degenek’s Red Star Belgrade are still alive in their bid to qualify for this season’s UEFA Champions League, but there was heartbreak for Tom Rogic’s Celtic.
After a 1-1 draw at home in the first leg, Celtic lost 2-1 against Greek side AEK Athens on Wednesday morning to crash out of the competition 3-2 on aggregate.
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The Caltex Socceroos playmaker started the match after he was rested from SPL duty on the weekend and despite some promising moments was unable to inspire his side in his 75 minutes on the pitch.
AEK took just six minutes to gain the ascendancy as Rodrigo Galo blasted home the opening goal from Niklas Hult’s cut-back, before Marko Livaja gave them breathing space early in the second half.
Brendan Rodgers’ men then piled on the pressure and pulled a goal back 12 minutes from time when Scott Sinclair - who replaced Rogic three minutes earlier - scored with a well-placed header.
But Celtic were unable to find a second goal which would have taken them through and now have to settle for a qualifying tie for the UEFA Europe League against either Lithuania's Suduva or Spartaks Jurmala of Latvia.
“The Europa League is still a prestigious competition. The two seasons I’ve been here we’ve qualified for the Champions League but it’s been a step too far this season," a shattered Rodgers said.
"First of all we have to get through that final plaoff game and ensure that we have European football. At this moment in time we’re disappointed with the result of the game and the way we went out."
While there was disappointment for Rogic, Degenek’s Red Star Belgrade is one tie away from making the group stage after they saw off Spartak Trnava after extra time.
Red Star, winners of the competition in 1991, fell behind to an early Marek Bakos header in Trnava but replied instantly through El Fardou Ben Nabouhane.
With the match finishing 1-1 (and 2-2 on aggregate), extra-time was needed with Serbian winger Nemanja Radonjic securing the victory with a superb finish into the top corner in the 98th minute, although the home side missed a penalty in the dying seconds.
Red Star, who have never qualified for the UEFA Champions’ League group stage, will meet Salzburg in the final qualifying playoff tie after the Austrian team strolled through with a 4-0 defeat of Macedonians Shkendija.
Fellow Aussie defender Trent Sainsbury’s PSV Eindhoven will also be involved in the final qualifying round, taking on Belarusian outfit BATE Borisov.
The two-legged ties will be held between August 22 and 30 (AEST).
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