Celtic book Champions League spot to show Rodgers progress

The usually timid Scottish champions have been doing somersaults on the European tightrope

Scott Sinclair Celtic
Scott Sinclair of Celtic scores against Astana
(Image credit: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic 5 Astana 0

Celtic effectively booked their place in the Champions League group stages with a crushing win over Astana of Kazakhastan in the first leg of their play-off at Parkhead.

The Scottish champions went unbeaten in the league last season but there was plenty at stake in this encounter.

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Celtic's European adventures have rarely gone smoothly in recent seasons. Last year they lost to a team from Gibraltar before scraping past Astana 3-2 on aggregate to make the group stages where they finished bottom of their group.

Last year's encounter with the Kazakh champions at Parkhead ended 2-1, but the nature of their destruction of Astana this time round bodes well for the coming campaign.

"[Brendan] Rodgers managed to somehow introduce a calm assurance into these normally gut-churning nights. It could possibly be his finest work," says the Daily Record.

"This isn't how it’s supposed to be. This was a Champions League play-off night. There should be panic attacks, stomach-turning setbacks and moments of utter fear."

Instead the Bhoys were at ease. "They played like a side utterly convinced they’d get the final result they wanted and blew Astana away in glorious fashion."

But it wasn't entirely plain sailing, says the Daily Telegraph. After a "shaky start" the home side "steamrolled" Astana with two goals from Scott Sinclair, a strike from James Forrest and two own goals.

"Such ruthlessness endorsed Brendan Rodgers' belief that his squad had matured greatly over a year under his charge."

The manager has "undoubtedly brought a calmness and composure to the mentality of his squad which has given them the knack of securing results as positive as this one", says The Scotsman.

If qualifying for the Champions League is usually a tightrope walk for Celtic, "here they were doing somersaults and twirls on the high wire", says The Times.

"Celtic have done it with a game to spare, another measure of the force Brendan Rodgers has rebuilt. They were grinning like Cheshire cats inside the boardroom after this. Another £25m is coming in, minimum, not to mention the excitement of some of the elite being on their way."

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