Celtic will not play in the Champions League group stage for the first time during Brendan Rodgers’ tenure after defeat by AEK Athens in Greece.
After a week soundtracked by reports of unrest between Rodgers and the board over a failure to strengthen the squad – and amplified by Saturday’s defeat at Hearts – Celtic were two down after 50 minutes in Athens.
Scott Sinclair’s header with 12 minutes to play left Celtic needing to score once more to progress to the play-off round on away goals.
But the Greek champions held on to deny their Scottish counterparts a tie with Hungarian side MOL Vidi.
Instead Rodgers will lead Celtic into 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.
Celtic made around £30m after reaching the Champions League last season and stood to earn more this term after Uefa announced a 50% increase in prize money.
However, slipping down into Uefa’s second-tier competition means the difference between a guaranteed £13.6m (€15.25m) in prize money for reaching the Champions League and £2.6m (€2.92m) for getting into the Europa League group stage.
‘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.
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 Galo 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 Marko 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 he 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.
- 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
- 23LustigSubstituted forDembeleat 60'minutes
- 8BrownBooked at 68mins
- 9GriffithsBooked at 79mins
- 18RogicSubstituted forSinclairat 76'minutes
- Vladislav Bezborodov
- Shots on Target
Match ends, AEK Athens 2, Celtic 1.
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 begins AEK Athens 1, Celtic 0.
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.
First Half begins.
Lineups are announced and players are warming up.