Celtic out of Champions League after 3-2 aggregate loss to AEK Athens

Rodrigo Galo celebrates after scoring for AEK Athens against Celtic

Celtic are out of the Champions League, despite staging a late rally against AEK Athens in Greece.

The Scottish side were two down after 50 minutes of the second leg through goals by Rodrigo Galo and Marko Livaja.

And although Scott Sinclair’s header gave Celtic hope, the Greeks held firm in the third qualifying round tie.

The defeat consigns Brendan Rodgers side to a Europa League play-off round meeting with Latvia’s Spartaks Jurmala or Suduva Marijampole of Lithuania.

Suduva hold a 1-0 lead and an away goal advantage going into Thursday’s third qualifying round deciding leg.

AEK, meanwhile, will play Hungarian outfit MOL Vidi in the Champions League play-off round.

Defensive frailties cost Celtic

The preamble to the match had been dominated by headlines about Dedryck Boyata’s Celtic future. But without the Belgian international and the suspended Kristoffer Ajer, Rodgers was left with Jack Hendry and the returning Jozo Simunovic as his central defensive pairing.

That weakened rearguard was a concern and, as was feared, it was opened up within six minutes. Nicklas Hult pulled back a pass to find Rodrigo in too much space to apply a finish from 14 yards.

Celtic did settle after that discombobulating start, enjoying plenty of the ball, but chances were scarce as Rodgers’ side searched for the required away goal.

Leigh Griffiths led the attack – with record signing Odsonne Edouard injured and Moussa Dembele on the bench – and the Scotland forward latched on to Callum McGregor’s teasing delivery only to steer wide under duress from his marker.

Celtic were being allowed to push forward by an Athens side content to wait for the right moment to try and put the result beyond doubt. And that moment came just after the break, Vassilis Lambropoulos outjumping Hendry to meet Rodrigo’s set piece and direct across the six-yard box for Livaja to nod in.

That left the Scottish champions in a desperate predicament as they scrambled to get back into the tie.

Simunovic’s glancing header and Olivier Ntcham’s free-kick were both well saved by Vasilios Barkas, but Sinclair reduced the deficit with 12 minutes remaining when headed in Kieran Tierney’s cross.

Another goal would have secured a win on away goals. Celtic pushed forward. AEK grew edgy.

In the fifth and final minute of added time the chance came. But Simunovic’s flicked cross from McGregor’s ball flew inches past a post. And seconds later, the home side were celebrating.

Scott Sinclair scores

‘Rodgers saw the signs’ – analysis

BBC Scotland’s senior football reporter Chris McLaughlin in Athens

This was coming. Rodgers did everything but spell it out over the past few weeks. He is a man who constantly talks about progress and for the first time since his arrival, the club is going backwards in European football. He saw the signs, made the noises, but all in vain.

It was no thumping. The fact is was close will frustrate the Celtic manager all the more. Who knows what difference a couple of new faces may have made for a Celtic side who looked devoid of ideas at times over the two legs. At this level, and given where they have been for the past two years, the margins are fine. That will keep Rodgers awake for the next few nights.

The Europa League is little consolation, both in a football and a financial sense but that is where they find themselves. Fans might attempt to soothe the pain with thoughts of a lengthy run in European football’s booby prize, but unless Celtic sort out the on and off-field issues, that seems fanciful.

Those who refused to believe that cracks were showing, might do well to look again. The manager has said he is going nowhere, now he must fight to arrest a worrying slide.


AEK Athens

  • 1Barkas
  • 2Bakakis
  • 4Oikonomou
  • 5Lampropoulos
  • 23Hult
  • 12BritoBooked at 53minsSubstituted forAlbanisat 82'minutes
  • 95dos Santos Saldanha
  • 8Gomes Simoes
  • 14BakasetasSubstituted forCosicat 90+1'minutes
  • 17KlonaridisSubstituted forMantalosat 73'minutesBooked at 90mins
  • 10LivajaBooked at 42mins


  • 7Albanis
  • 9Giakoumakis
  • 15Cosic
  • 16Tsintotas
  • 20Mantalos
  • 22Ponce
  • 39Morán


  • 1Gordon
  • 49Forrest
  • 23LustigSubstituted forDembeleat 60'minutes
  • 4Hendry
  • 5Simunovic
  • 63Tierney
  • 42McGregor
  • 8BrownBooked at 68mins
  • 21Ntcham
  • 9GriffithsBooked at 79mins
  • 18RogicSubstituted forSinclairat 76'minutes


  • 10Dembele
  • 11Sinclair
  • 12Gamboa
  • 15Hayes
  • 29Bain
  • 73Johnston
  • 88Kouassi
Vladislav Bezborodov

Match Stats

Home TeamAEK AthensAway TeamCeltic
Shots on Target

Live Text

Match ends, AEK Athens 2, Celtic 1.

Full Time

Second Half ends, AEK Athens 2, Celtic 1.


Substitution, AEK Athens. Uros Cosic replaces Anastasios Bakasetas.


Petros Mantalos (AEK Athens) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.


Substitution, AEK Athens. Christos Albanis replaces Rodrigo Galo.


Leigh Griffiths (Celtic) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.


Goal! AEK Athens 2, Celtic 1. Scott Sinclair (Celtic) header from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Callum McGregor.


Substitution, Celtic. Scott Sinclair replaces Tomas Rogic.


Substitution, AEK Athens. Petros Mantalos replaces Viktor Klonaridis.


Scott Brown (Celtic) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.


Substitution, Celtic. Moussa Dembele replaces Mikael Lustig.


Rodrigo Galo (AEK Athens) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.


Goal! AEK Athens 2, Celtic 0. Marko Livaja (AEK Athens) header from more than 35 yards to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Vasilios Lampropoulos.

Second Half

Second Half begins AEK Athens 1, Celtic 0.

Half Time

First Half ends, AEK Athens 1, Celtic 0.


Marko Livaja (AEK Athens) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.


Goal! AEK Athens 1, Celtic 0. Rodrigo Galo (AEK Athens) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the high centre of the goal. Assisted by Niklas Hult.

Kick Off

First Half begins.

Lineups are announced and players are warming up.


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