PARIS, France December 16 – A heroic draw against Udinese in Italy was not enough for Celtic to qualify for the Europa League knockout stages on Thursday while Birmingham City joined Tottenham Hotspur in going out despite winning their final group game.
Despite having won just once on their travels in Europe in more than eight years, Celtic needed to beat the Serie A high-fliers in north-eastern Italy to go through from Group I at their hosts’ expense.
It looked like they might just achieve a memorable result as they took the lead just before the half-hour mark when Gary Hooper benefited from a lucky ricochet inside the six-yard box to tap home following a Giorgos Samaras cross from the left.
Hooper had already missed a gilt-edged chance after being played in by Samaras inside the opening quarter of an hour at the Stadio Friuli, but Udinese hit back just before the break, the prolific Antonio Di Natale making no mistake after Cha Du-Ri inadvertently played the ball into his path.
Udinese would have gone on to win the game in the second-half but some brilliant goalkeeping from Fraser Forster — notably from a Di Natale free-header — and an incredible Kwadwo Asamoah miss gave Celtic hope right until the end.
The SPL side go out, though, with Udinese joining group winners Atletico Madrid — who beat Rennes 3-1 — in the next round.
Birmingham, of the English Championship, are also out despite beating Maribor of Slovenia 1-0 at St Andrews thanks to a first-half Adam Rooney header.
Last season’s League Cup winners needed Braga to beat Brugge in the other game in Group H, but that always appeared a big ask after the Portuguese side had Elderson Echiejile sent off early on.
Ewerton did equalise for Braga after Bjorn Vleminckx had given Brugge the lead, but the Belgians claimed the point they needed to go through, leaving Chris Hughton’s men to return to their battle to win an immediate return to the Premier League.
Earlier, Tottenham bowed out from Group A despite winning 4-0 away to Irish champions Shamrock Rovers thanks to goals from Steven Pienaar, Andros Townsend, Jermaine Defoe and Harry Kane.
The Premier League side needed to win whilst hoping that Rubin Kazan lost in their game away to PAOK Salonika, and also needed to overturn a goal difference deficit to the Russians of five.
However, Rubin recovered from having goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov sent off for giving away an early penalty which Vieirinha converted, and equalised through Paraguay striker Nelson Valdez just after the break.
Spurs manager Harry Redknapp has not hidden his lack of interest in this competition this season, and he sent out a second-string team backed up by just three outfield players on the bench.
However, he was disappointed not to progress after the efforts his team put in in Dublin.
“I thought when Rubin Kazan went down to 10 men that we might have a good chance and four goals would be enough,” he told ITV4.
“But it was a good experience for some of the younger players in our squad and they will probably go out on loan in January now.”
Tottenham, Birmingham and Celtic join Fulham in exiting Europe after the Cottagers were knocked out having squandered a two-goal lead to draw at home to Denmark’s Odense on Wednesday.
Stoke City will however be in Friday’s knockout stage draw along with Champions League dropouts Manchester United and Manchester City.
Most of the other qualification slots had already been decided before Thursday, while a 1-1 draw for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar at home to Metalist Kharkiv was enough to take them through from Group G with the Ukrainian side.