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Celtic qualify for Champions League: Brendan Rodgers proud of his Bhoys despite nerve shredder

Hapoel Be'er 2-0 Celtic (Celtic win 5-4 on aggregate)

By Ronnie Esplin

Brendan Rodgers suffered "probably the longest 90 minutes" of his managerial career as Celtic survived a scare against Hapoel Be'er Sheva to reach the Champions League group stage for the first time in three years with a 5-4 aggregate.

The Bhoys were heavy favourites to see out the play-off second leg after their 5-2 victory at Parkhead last week but were on the ropes from the early stages at the Turner Stadium.

Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon saved a penalty in the 15th minute from Maharan Radi, but the relief was only temporary as substitute Ben Sahar soon headed the Israeli champions ahead.

The visitors conceded a second goal in the 48th minute when a mix-up between Saidy Janko and Gordon allowed Romania international Ovidiu Hoban the easiest of chances to make it 2-0, but the Scottish champions held on.

Celtic boss Rodgers, who declared himself "immensely proud", said: "It was probably the longest 90 minutes I have faced as a coach, and I think with past experiences that players have had, sometimes they know how it can map out.

"I thought Hapoel Be'er Sheva were outstanding. They had to force the game, of course. They had nothing to lose, but they played very well.

"But I have to congratulate my players, because all the work we have been doing has been based around that mentality and quality of game.

"We know we can't always play well. A lot of games we have played well.

"But (this match) was purely about resilience and persistence and it was an amazing effort by the players on the back of everything they have been through before.

"So huge applause to them and I'm delighted they get their rewards after a long pre-season."

The Scottish champions endured a tougher night than expected after going 2-0 down to Hapoel Be'er Sheva early in the second half following a defensive mix-up when Saidy Janko bumped into Craig Gordon, who spilled the ball for Ovidiu Hoban to net. But Celtic were ultimately grateful to Gordon's first-half penalty save as they held on for a 5-4 aggregate win to rejoin Europe's elite following two seasons out of the competition.

Brown said: "We made it tough for ourselves but this big man (Gordon) saved our day once again, an outstanding performance from start to finish and a penalty save as well. The way he has been playing recently is outstanding.

"We had to dig deep and it was a gutsy performance. It's been a couple of years since we have been in the Champions League but we deserve our place."

Gordon felt there was little he could do about the second goal.

"I didn't even see Saidy coming," he said. "I shouted to Kolo (Toure) to let it run and Saidy has come in on my blind side and crashed into me. These things happen but we managed to see the game out. I think I did all right, I don't think there was a lot I could do about the second goal. I thought I handled everything that came in the box and that's all I can do."

HAPOEL BE'ER: Goresh, Bitton, Leonardo Vítor (Shabtay 76), Tzedek, Davidzada, Radi, Ogu, Hoban, Melikson (Bar Buzaglo 34), Palhano Soares (Sahar 19), Nwakaeme. Subs: Brown, Ohayon, Taha, Haimov

CELTIC: Gordon, Janko, Lustig, K Touré, Tierney, Bitton, Forrest (Rogic 45), Brown, McGregor (Sviatchenko 65) Sinclair, Griffiths (Dembele 57). Subs: Izaguirre, Armstrong, De Vries, Roberts

Referee: Bas Nijhuis (Netherlands)

Attendance: 15,383

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