BRENDAN RODGERS admitted he thought it was all over for Celtic in Europe when the fans started to leave Parkhead.
Trailing 2-0 to RB Salzburg and with RB Leipzig leading 1-0 against Rosenborg in Germany, the Hoops were heading for the Europa League exit.
It looked as though they would tie on nine points with the big-spending Bundesliga outfit and go out on an inferior head-to-head against the Germans.
However, the Norwegians amazingly levelled with four minutes to go through Tore Reginiussen and turned Group B on its head.
Rodgers’ men finished two points ahead of Leipzig with the Austrians strolling through with a 100 per cent record after their 2-1 success in the east end of Glasgow.
The champions will now go into Monday’s draw for the knock-out stages of the competition.
The Irishman admitted: “I could see the punters walking out – that’s normally a sign that they think it is over.
”I realised something was happening when I heard the noise, then a couple of guys on the bench said that Rosenburg had scored.
“That was a great achievement by them, but it also demonstrates again the quality and difficulty of the group, that Rosenburg can go away and get a result in Leipzig.
“So, for us to come away with nine points shows the achievement. We knew by the end that the score had finished 1-1 so it was mixed feelings.”
PARADISE…Brendan Rodgers acknowledges the fans.
Looking ahead to the last-32 ballot, Rodgers added: “I don’t know how far we can go. The objective was to qualify and over the course of the campaign we earned that right. You only need to look at the draw now to see there are some fantastic teams.
“The question is, can we go one step further again? We made the last 32 last time, so can we then take another step forward? That would be the idea.
“But first a huge congratulations to my players. This campaign was over the course of six games so to finish a really tough group with nine points and to qualify is a huge achievement.
“Of course, the best team won on this occasion. Salzburg were very good, dynamic and sharp. They have some really, really good players.
“We didn’t play well, but what we have shown over the course of the six games is that we can play well. We’ve played well in enough of the games to get the points in what was a very tough group.
“I’m so happy for the players, to get that reward at the end of it is a great achievement. We’re trying to represent Scottish football in the best way and that’s difficult when you look at the investments in the major leagues.
“So, this something the players can be proud of.
“There are still lots of areas we can improve on, but for where the players were from when I first came in to being able to finish above a team like Leipzig shows their determination and progression. It’s great for us to be in the last 32.”
Last night’s loss against Salzburg was the Hoops’ first reverse in seven home European ties in this dramatic campaign. They went into the crunch against last season’s Europa League semi-finalists with a record of five wins and a draw.
Thankfully, their only defeat has not proved disastrous.