Celtic survived a torrid night in the Netherlands to edge past AZ Alkmaar on aggregate and reach the Europa League groups for the fourth season running.
Kyogo Furuhashi’s third-minute opener put Celtic 3-0 ahead in the tie, but Zakaria Aboukhlal soon pounced on an error from goalkeeper Joe Hart to level and Carl Starfelt’s calamitous own goal gave AZ the second-leg lead.
Hart earned part redemption with two key saves from Aboukhlal, and Ernest Poku botched a late chance, as Celtic hung on amid intense pressure.
Ange Postecoglou’s men go into Friday’s draw despite the end of their six-game winning run, while AZ drop into the Conference League.
Celtic had kept four clean sheets in the last five games while scoring 24 goals in their victory streak, but that solidity and free-flowing football were markedly absent in the Netherlands.
The Scottish side’s dream start was quickly nullified in a nightmare, error-strewn first half.
Hart was badly at fault as AZ were gifted an equaliser. Centre-back Stephen Welsh failed to deal with a kick-out from AZ goalkeeper Hobie Verhulst, with the ball brushing off his chest towards Hart.
The former England keeper had plenty of time to clear on the edge of his box but inexplicably hesitated and Aboukhal took the ball off his toe to slot into an empty net.
Celtic’s second concession was even worse, with Starfelt under no pressure as he took a fresh-air swipe at a cross, the ball flying into the net off his standing leg.
The visitors had superbly caught AZ cold in the third minute when Anthony Ralston’s long pass down the right released Liel Abada, whose cross left Kyogo with a simple finish for his seventh goal in seven starts.
Yet Postecoglou’s men appeared ill at ease and nervy in spells, not helped by the loss of left-back Greg Taylor to a first-half injury, with young Adam Montgomery on in his place.
Aboukhal was a constant danger, with Hart impressively foiling the striker either side of half-time.
The keeper had a further rush of the blood to the head, though, when he raced to the edge of the box and missed his attempted punch. Celtic were fortunate AZ could not capitalise, with Hart parrying Jesper Karlsson’s shot behind and Bruno Martins Indi glancing the ensuing corner narrowly off target.
AZ looked far more polished and Koshi Suguwara arrowed a couple of shots off target, while captain Teun Koopmeiners’ drive wasn’t far away from the bottom corner.
Odsonne Edouard’s introduction after the hour gave Celtic a physical focal point up front as they began to stem the flow and Montgomery and Ryan Christie sent deflected efforts off target.
To their credit, Celtic dug in and saw the task through, surviving one huge late scare when substitute Poku scooped over from six yards with the goal gaping.
Man of the match – Zakaria Aboukhlal
What did we learn?
This was Celtic’s biggest test so far under Postecoglou and while it was far from convincing, they came through to achieve their target.
They remain a work in progress and the need for further additions before the looming transfer deadline was reinforced.
The mistakes from Hart and Starfelt were worrying lapses as Celtic’s old defensive flaws came back to haunt them.
What did they say?
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou: “Hugely important we got through. Different type of performance tonight but reward for getting the job done over two legs.
“We made two pretty terrible errors, but people make mistakes. Joe made a couple of outstanding saves and Carl defended strongly in the second half.”
Celtic learn their Europa League group opponents in Friday’s draw (11:00 BST) before travelling to Ibrox on Sunday (12:00) to face Rangers in the opening Old Firm derby of the Scottish Premiership season.
- 4Martins IndiBooked at 66mins
- 6MidtsjøSubstituted forBeukemaat 75′minutes
- 10de Wit
- 17AboukhlalBooked at 39minsSubstituted forPokuat 71′minutes
- 21PavlidisSubstituted forGudmundssonat 71′minutesBooked at 90mins
- 3TaylorSubstituted forMontgomeryat 24′minutesBooked at 61mins
- 42McGregorBooked at 58mins
- 18RogicSubstituted forEdouardat 60′minutes
- 8FuruhashiSubstituted forSoroat 86′minutes