Celtic belong in Champions League group stage - Brendan Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers
Rodgers has guided Celtic into the Champions League group stage in his first season in charge

Brendan Rodgers says his Celtic side took "a huge step" by qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League.

Despite losing 2-0 to Hapoel Beer Sheva in Israel, the Scottish champions won the play-off 5-4 on aggregate.

"They're going back in amongst Europe's elite - it's where Celtic belong," said Rodgers.

"Tonight was really about getting through and all the plaudits go to the players because they got through."

Goals from Ben Sahar and Ovidiu Hoban made the match a nervous experience for Celtic but they did enough to avoid conceding a third that would have taken Hapoel through on away goals.

The aggregate success takes Celtic back into the group stage - a feat they were unable to achieve under Rodgers' predecessor Ronny Deila over the past two seasons.

"This is a huge step for us," said Rodgers, whose club stands to make around £30m from the group stage. "It's an incredible moment for them.

Celtic's Champions League income
£2.6m for winning the play-off£10.3m for group stage participation
£10m television money£7m from gate receipts
£1.3m for group stage win£0.43m for group stage draw

"At Celtic, when I came in, the focus of the criticism was that they couldn't tough it out, but we showed over two games and under a huge amount of pressure that this team can.

"You have to take into consideration the mentality of the players in the last couple of seasons when it's been so tough for them, mentally, to go out at this stage.

"We've only been together a short period of time. We've made huge strides as a team and as a club in every way.

"We showed an incredible desire to want to see the game through and you can't ask any more. They coped really, really well."

Scott Brown celebrates
Celtic will return to the Champions League group stage after a three-year absence.

At 0-0, Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon saved Maharan Radi's penalty and Rodgers said: "It was a huge save at that time of the game. He's read it really well."

The draw for the group stage takes place on Thursday and Celtic are likely to be in the fourth pot of seeds while Barcelona, holders Real Madrid, Leicester City and Bayern Munich will be among the sides in pot one.

"There's so much riding on this qualification - so much has been spoken about," added Rodgers.

"It has really happened and we've qualified. Great for the nation as well. For Scotland, it's huge."

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