Celtic see off Helsingborg to seal Champions League return

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 2:13am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 3:21am

Celtic reached the group stage of the Champions League after a four-year absence following a 2-0 win at home to Helsingborg that sealed a 4-0 aggregate play-off round success.

A controversial first-half effort from Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama's goal two minutes from time helped Scottish champions Celtic - the first British club to win the European Cup back in 1967 - to a place in  last night's draw after they were roared on to victory by their Parkhead faithful.

"It's the best thing I've done in football," Celtic manager Neil Lennon said. "The pressure going into this game and, in particular the last five or six weeks, has been enormous.

"I actually feel British clubs going into these games are at an unfair disadvantage because they're starting their season, so it makes the effort of the players and the performances even more remarkable in the circumstances."The 41-year-old Northern Irishman added: "You know what it means to the fans here.  It's been four years in the waiting and I'm just so happy and so proud of them."

Already 2-0 up from the first leg in Sweden, the Glasgow giants' 30th-minute opener saw them get a big break from the match officials.

Scott Brown's shot from outside the box came to striker Georgios Samaras, whose pass along the edge of the six-yard area fell to Hooper, who tapped in from close range despite appearing to be offside.

Hooper glanced nervously across to the assistant referee but, despite furious protests from the visitors, no flag was raised and the goal stood. "I always look to see if I'm offside," said Hooper. "I nearly missed it as well, but it just went in and I'll take it."

Lennon's men put the result beyond doubt in the 88th minute after Kris Commons' inswinging  cross was met by Wanyama, rising high in the middle of the six-yard box to head the ball home.

"Celtic are a big club and I came here for the Champions League," 21-year-old Kenya midfielder Wanyama said. "We've been working very hard and I'm very happy to get the chance to play in the Champions League.

"We are looking forward to playing very, very big teams. We are very happy to make the group stages."

Lille, CFR Cluj, Spartak Moscow and Dynamo Kiev also progressed to the 32-team group stage. The 10 play-off winners joined 22 automatic qualifiers in the draw in Monaco. Teams in the group stage will receive a minimum of ¤8.6 million(HK$83.6 million) from  Uefa.