GLASGOW, Scotland, August 30 – Harambee Stars midfielder Victor Wanyama scored as Celtic reached the group stage of the Champions League following a 2-0 win at home to Helsingborg on Wednesday that sealed a 4-0 aggregate play-off round success.
A controversial first-half effort from Gary Hooper and 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 Thursday’s draw after they were roared on to victory by their Parkhead faithful as they made the elite European showpiece for the first time in four years.
“Celtic is a big club and I came here for the Champions League,” 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.”
“It’s the best thing I’ve done in football,” Neil Lennon, the elated Celtic manager, told Sky Sports.
“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.
“You know what it means to the fans here,” the Northern Irishman added. “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 Wednesday 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 Gary 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!”
But if there was an element of good fortune about the goal, it was no more than Celtic deserved for their attacking play.
Five minutes into the second half, Hoops keeper Fraser Forster, who made several important saves in the first leg, had to dive to his left to push a curling 25-yard free-kick from Jere Uronen round the post, with the home side surviving the ensuing corner.
At the other end, James Forrest struck a powerful shot against the post with impressive Helsingborg goalkeeper Par Hansson rooted to the spot.
Hansson then produced an excellent save from Brown to keep the Swedes in the match and, despite their side’s aggregate position, there was still an air of concern among the Celtic support.
But Lennon’s men put the result beyond doubt in the 88th minute after a fine double save by Hansson from Brown and substitute Tony Watt led to a corner.
Kris Commons’s inswinging centre was met by Wanyama, rising high in the middle of the six-yard box to head the ball beyond Hansson, who had a right to expect more from his defenders, and into the corner of the net.