Glasgow Celtic have been handed a lifeline by UEFA after Legia Warsaw made a massive mistake by fielding an ineligible player and have been knocked out of the Champions League.
The Scottish Champions were knocked out by Legia 6-1 on aggregate over the two legs and were outplayed fair and square.
However, with two minutes left of the second leg and the Polish side already 6-1 up, they brought on Bartosz Bereszynski as a substitute. The problem was Bereszynski had been sent off in their final Europa League game last season and therefore had to serve a three-match ban.
By bringing Bereszynski on for the final two minutes, when really they could have left him on the bench, Legia have been kicked out of the competition for breaching the rules by fielding an ineligible player. Celtic were handed a 3-0 win in the second leg, and after losing 4-1 away from home in the first leg, that meant the scores were tied at 4-4 but the Glasgow club went through on away goals. What makes it even worse for Legia is that Ivica Vrdoljak missed two penalty kicks in the first leg. If he had made just one of those, his side was still be through despite fielding an ineligible player.
UEFA had the following to say in a statement.
“Legia have been sanctioned for fielding an ineligible player (article 18 of the Uefa Champions League regulations and article 21 of the disciplinary regulations). The match has been declared as forfeit meaning Legia Warsaw have lost the match 3-0. As a consequence, Celtic have qualified for the Uefa Champions League play-offs on away goals (agg: 4-4) and Legia will compete in the Uefa Europa League play-offs. In addition the player Bartosz Bereszynski has been suspended for one additional Uefa competition match for which he would be otherwise eligible. This suspension shall be added to the remaining two match suspension which the player still has to serve in accordance with the control and disciplinary body decision of 13 February 2014.”
Celtic are delighted. Legia are distraught.
This is not the first time Celtic have benefited by an opposition club fielding an ineligible player. In the 2011-12 UCL qualifying campaign they were knocked out by Swiss side Sion but were reinstated after Sion were sanctioned. So, for the second time in four years Celtic have been handed a second-chance.
The draw for the final play-off round of UCL qualifying was released on Friday morning and Celtic now face a home and away series again Slovenian champions Maribor. If they win that they will make the UCL group stages and get a massive cash injection which looked to be dead and buried after their poor performances against Legia.
The Polish side are set to appeal the ban and are requesting that UEFA reinstate them into the competition.
We haven’t heard the last of this but for now Celtic have been handed a Champions League lifeline.