Celtic have been reinstated to the Champions League play-offs after their opponents in the qualifying round, Legia Warsaw, were thrown out of the competition for fielding an ineligible player as a late substitute.
However, they must still await the outcome of a likely appeal from the Poles, who were angry at the decision claiming it was caused by a clerical error.
For now, the reprieve has earned Celtic a tie with the Slovenian champions Maribor in the final play-off round. Legia had won the third-round qualifier 6-1 on aggregate on Wednesday, following up their 4-1 victory in the first leg with a 2-0 win at Murrayfield. But the Polish side brought on Bartosz Bereszynski in the 86th minute of the second leg, even though he was suspended for the game.
Legia official Dominik Ebebenge said the club would appeal, and blamed human error for failing to register the player in question for previous qualifying games, meaning those matches did not count toward his three-game suspension.
“The proportion between the error and the consequences is unimaginable,” Ebebenge said after receiving Uefa’s verdict one hour before yesterday’s draw for the Champions League play-offs. “The spirits of the players are broken.”
Celtic were awarded a 3-0 victory for the second leg, meaning the Scottish champions progress on away goals with the aggregate score at 4-4. It is the second time in four seasons that Celtic have been reinstated in a Uefa competition. In 2011, the Swiss club Sion were ejected from the Europa League after fielding five ineligible players in their victory over Celtic.
Celtic’s manager Ronny Deila admitted the reinstatement left him feeling “very strange”, adding: “I feel very sorry for Legia.” When asked if he felt embarrassed, given the fact that his team had been outplayed, he replied: “Legia played well against us, but this is nothing to do with Celtic. It is about Uefa. It is not my business.”
The Legia manager, Henning Berg, found the judgement hard to fathom, saying: “It’s very, very difficult to take and I think it goes against every intention of fair play and fair competition.”