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Celtic Joins 11 Other Ex-Winners in Champions League Group Stage

Celtic defeated Helsingborgs 2-0 to reach the Champions League group stage, where it joins 11 other former winners of European soccer’s elite club competition.

Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama scored last night in Glasgow to give the Scottish champion a 4-0 victory in the two-game qualifying playoff. Celtic, the 1967 European champion, reaches the group stage for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

“It’s very special, we’ve been waiting for it for four years,” Hooper told Sky Sports. “Just getting into the group stage is massive. It’s going to be unreal.”

Lille, CFR Cluj, Spartak Moscow and Dynamo Kiev also progressed to the 32-team group stage. The 10 playoff winners join 22 automatic qualifiers in tonight’s draw in Monaco. Teams in the group stage will receive a minimum of 8.6 million euros ($10.8 million) from tournament organizer UEFA.

Leading 2-0 from last week’s opener in Sweden, Hooper all but ended the contest by scoring in the 30th minute, though he appeared to be in an offside position. Wanyama added a second by heading in Kris Commons’s cross with two minutes remaining.

“The pressure going into this game and, in particular the last five or six weeks, has been enormous,” Celtic manager Neil Lennon told Sky Sports. “It’s been four years in the waiting and I’m just so happy and so proud of them.”

Lille Advances

Lille advanced 2-1 on aggregate over Copenhagen on Tulio De Melo’s goal in the 105th minute. The French club forced extra time last night with a first-half goal from Lucas Digne after Copenhagen won the first leg 1-0 at home.

Pantelis Kapetanos scored as Cluj of Romania beat Basel 1-0 to complete a 3-1 win. Spartak Moscow, which played the final nine minutes with 10 men after Demy de Zeeuw received his second yellow card, held on for a 1-1 tie at Fenerbahce and a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Dynamo Kiev advanced by a 4-3 score following a 2-1 home loss to Borussia Moenchengladbach. Ideye Brown’s 88th-minute chip sent Dynamo through after Germany’s Moenchengladbach had taken the series lead on the away goals rule.

Anderlecht, Dinamo Zagreb, Braga, BATE Borisov and Malaga advanced from their playoff series two days ago.

Celtic is the only former champion to go through the playoffs to reach the group stage. Chelsea, which won its first European Cup title in May, and former winners Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Porto, AC Milan, Ajax, Benfica, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus qualified automatically.

The draw will be held tonight with the 32 teams split into four seeding pots with one from each drawn into eight groups. Teams from the same country can’t be grouped together.

The reigning champions of Europe’s four biggest leagues may be pooled together with Spain’s Real Madrid in the first pot, England’s Manchester City in the second, Italy’s Juventus in the third and Germany’s Borussia Dortmund in the fourth.

French champion Montpellier, Denmark’s FC Nordsjaelland and Malaga of Spain will be making their group-stage debuts.

The Champions League final will be played May 25 at Wembley Stadium in London.

Pot 1: Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester United, Bayern Munich,
Real Madrid, Arsenal, Porto, AC Milan.

Pot 2: Valencia, Benfica, Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St.
Petersburg, Schalke, Manchester City, Braga, Dynamo Kiev.

Pot 3: Olympiacos, Ajax, Anderlecht, Juventus, Spartak Moscow,
Paris Saint-Germain, Lille, Galatasaray.

Pot 4: Celtic, Borussia Dortmund, BATE Borisov, Dinamo Zagreb,
CFR Cluj, Malaga, Montpellier, Nordsjaelland.

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