BRENDAN RODGERS looked to improve on last season’s Europa League achievements after Celtic won through to the knockout stage of the tournament despite a 2-1 defeat by Salzburg at Parkhead on Thursday night.
The Hoops needed only a point to make sure they joined the already-qualified Austrian outfit in the last 32 but found themselves 2-0 down in the second half through goals from Israel striker Munas Dabbur and substitute Fredrik Gulbrandsen.
Celtic substitute Olivier Ntcham scored at the second attempt after his penalty in added time had been saved by Alexander Walke, but RB Leipzig’s unlikely 1-1 draw with bottom side Rosenborg meant the Scottish champions held on to second spot in Group B, two points ahead of the German outfit to go into Monday’s draw.
Celtic were beaten by Zenit St Petersburg at the last-32 stage last season but, while reluctant to say exactly how far his side can go this time, Rodgers said: “It is really exciting and brilliant to be in there.
“There would be disappointment if I was sitting here having not qualified.
“But the guys have earned it and we look forward to the draw and I am sure it will be a tough team but we are in it which makes us really happy.
“There are some fantastic teams in there.
“Can we go one step again? We got to the last 32 the last time.
“Our idea going into that is can we then make another step forward, that would be the idea, take it round by round.
“I think we are trying to represent Scottish football in the best way.
“You look at the investment that goes into all the major leagues so I think to get through is something the players and everyone can be proud of.
“I think everyone looked at the group and thought if we can come through that it will be a brilliant achievement.
“There are still areas we can improve on but from where the players were when I first came in, to being able to finish above a team like Leipzig, shows their determination and their progression.
“It is great for us to be in the last 32.”