‘Celtic should NOT have to qualify for Champions League group stage’ – CFR Cluj manager Dan Petrescu blasts UEFA after Hoops exit

14 Aug

The man who ended Celtic’s Champions League dream believes the eight-in-a-row Scottish champions ‘deserve’ to sail straight through to the group stages.

CFR Cluj manager Dan Petrescu joined talkSPORT the morning after his side’s stunning 4-3 victory at Celtic Park.

And he vented his annoyance at UEFA over the number of games teams are forced to play just to qualify for Europe’s elite competition, despite being crowned champions of their country last season.

CFR Cluj boss Dan Petrescu celebrates as his team beat Celtic in their Champions League third qualifying round tie in Glasgow
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Speaking on Wednesday’s Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast, Petrescu – the former Chelsea defender – hailed his team’s ‘unbelievable achievement’ in Parkhead, but concedes they are unlikely to go any further in the Champions League.

Having already played three tough qualifiers, he believes their final match against Slavia Prague may be a step too far.

Petrescu led Cluj to the Romanian title last season – their third in a row – and he believes that should be enough for his team, and Scottish champions Celtic, to go directly to the group stage.

He said: “For my club it’s unbelievable because we won against Astana – a better club with more money – then we beat Macabi Tel Avivf rom Israel – a better club with a better budget – and now we’ve beat Celtic.

“But now to qualify for the group stage we have to win against Slavia Prague and in my opinion it’s too much.

“To play four rounds before you arrive in the group stages, I don’t understand the rules. For UEFA, I don’t understand why Celtic should also play the preliminary rounds.

“We’ve won the league the last three years in Romania and we work so hard to win the league but the next season you can still go out [of the Champions League] straight away, I don’t understand.

“I think Romania and Scotland deserve their champions to go directly to the group stage.”

Listen back to Dan Petrescu on the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast IN FULL above

Celtic 3-4 CFR Cluj (agg 4-5): Neil Lennon’s men knocked out of Champions League with dreadful defeat to Romanian minnows

13 Aug

Celtic’s Champions League hopes were brought to an abrupt end after a calamitous defeat at home to CFR Cluj.

The Hoops made a good start against the Romanians, leading 2-1 at half-time thanks to goals from James Forrest and Odsonne Edourard, however, Scott Brown’s handball allowed Billel Omrani to score from the a penalty.

Celtic have crashed out of Europe’s premier club competition
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Ryan Christie soon put Celtic back in front but Omrani quickly levelled again on the rebound in the 80th minute to put the Romanians ahead on away goals.

George Tucudean then netted with the last kick of the game to seal a 5-4 aggregate win in the third qualifying round.

Neil Lennon made a big call in his team selection with summer signing Boli Bolingoli dropped and Callum McGregor moved to left-back.

McGregor had a shaky start and was beaten to a cross as Ciprian Deac headed the opener but the midfielder set up the equaliser as he and all of his team-mates improved vastly in the second half.

However, they could not manage the game when ahead and now drop down to the Europa League play-offs, where they will face AIK Stockholm or Moldovan side Sheriff with the Swedes 2-1 up ahead of their home leg.

Neil Lennon will be furious with the way his team defended
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Cluj pressed Celtic aggressively and pinned their hosts back for much of the opening stages.

McGregor had an escape as Omrani lobbed the ball to the back post. The stand-in defender lost Deac and clattered into the Cluj player after he had screwed a shot wide but the visitors’ penalty appeals fell on deaf ears.

Christie began to cause problems and Mikey Johnston was not far away with a 25-yard shot at pace but Celtic fell behind in the 27th minute.

Cluj took a quick throw down the left flank and Brown could not prevent Omrani whipping in a dangerous ball to the edge of the six-yard box. Deac cut across McGregor and headed in off the far post.

The Translyvanian side smelled blood and Scott Bain made an unorthodox save with his foot from Damjan Djokovic’s free-kick.

Celtic showed more urgency towards the end of the half. Christie squeezed a ball along the six-yard line and Edouard got in front of his man but stabbed well over, and Forrest made a good run into the box but shot wide from a tight angle.

Lennon stuck with his starting line-up and they responded to his half-time team-talk with their first two efforts on target inside the first couple of minutes, headers from Kristoffer Ajer and Jozo Simunovic which were blocked on the line by a defender and then goalkeeper.

The equaliser came in the 51st minute after a slick move down the left. Edouard left McGregor’s low cross and Forrest beat a man and finished high into the net.

Forrest’s equaliser eased the tension at Celtic Park
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Cluj looked threatening on the break but the chances kept coming for Celtic. Edouard stabbed Christie’s low cross just wide and McGregor fired over before the Frenchman swept home in the 61st minute after two defenders had got in each other’s way from Hatem Abd Elhamed’s cross.

Johnston, Christie and Forrest all threatened as Celtic looked for a cushion but Brown gifted the visitors a penalty in the 74th minute when he handled following a corner under no real pressure. Omrani’s penalty fizzed underneath Bain’s dive.

Celtic went back in front two minutes later when Edouard burst into the box and squared for Christie to net but they did not kill the game off and Omrani finished high into the net after Bain could only parry Djokovic’s angled strike.

Substitute Leigh Griffiths flicked a header wide and McGregor shot off target twice as Cluj survived some intense pressure.

And Tucudean clipped the ball over Bain six minutes into stoppage-time to put his side into a play-off against Slavia Prague.

Cluj march onto the next qualifying round while Celtic drop down to the Europa League qualifiers
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Celtic handed tough route to Champions League group stages with Slavia Prague the opponent if they can beat CFR Cluj

5 Aug

Celtic have been given a tough path to the Champions League group stage after the draw was made on Monday.

Neil Lennon’s side have already seen off Nomme Kalju in the second qualifying round with a 7-0 aggregate victory.

Neil Lennon and his Celtic side have a tough route to the Champions League group stages
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If they can get past CFR Cluj in the third qualifying round of the Champions League, then they will have to face Czech champions Slavia Prague.

The potential clash with last year’s Europa League quarter-finalists was one they will have wanted to avoid at Monday’s draw in Nyon.

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Slavia pushed Chelsea close in two games last year, losing 1-0 at home before a 4-3 defeat at Stamford Bridge saw them bow out 5-3 on aggregate.

For the time being Celtic’s minds are firmly focused on Cluj, who they face in the first leg in Romania on Wednesday.

If Celtic overcome Cluj, they will be at least guaranteed a place in the Europa League group stages should they be defeated by Slavia.

If last year’s semi-finalists Ajax overcome PAOK Salonika, they will face either Apoel of Cyprus or Qarabag of Azerbaijan.