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Published: 08:52 | 24/8/16

Rodgers: Celtic back where they belong

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers admitted that he struggled to watch as his side scraped through to the group stages of the Champions League.

The Hoops led Hapoel Be'er Sheva 5-2 on aggregate heading into the second-leg at the Turner Stadium but the Israeli side gave them a real scare as they scored twice to leave Rodgers' side on the brink of an early exit.

Goalkeeper Craig Gordon was forced to save a penalty in the 15th minute but it was not long before Ben Sahar netted for the home side and Ovidiu Hoban doubled their advantage shortly after the restart to make it 5-4 on aggregate.

Fortunately Celtic held on to book their place in Thursday's Champions League draw but Rodgers was full of praise for Hapoel Be'er Sheva.

"It was the longest 90 minutes I've had as a coach. Be'er Sheva were outstanding," Rodgers said.

"They had to force the game and they played very well, but I have to congratulate my players. All the work we have done over the course of pre-season has been around that mentality and quality.

"It was an amazing effort by the players on the back of everything they have been through.

"When I came in, the criticism was that Celtic couldn't tough it out, but we showed over two games under huge pressure, that this team can. I'm delighted they have got their rewards."

Celtic last qualified for the group stages of the Champions League in 2013-14 season and Rodgers believes returning to Europe's elite competition is a huge step for the club.

"Tonight they added an extra per cent to their mentality," he said.

"I think deep down that maybe they didn't think they could achieve because of the short period of time we have been working with them.

"But we have built into them a belief that if you work hard and with an intensity that will give you confidence and you give yourself a better chance of winning and when you are stuck you can dig it out.

"Maybe the focus of the criticism when I came in was we couldn't tough it out but we showed after two games and under a huge amount of pressure that this team could tough it out.

"You can never say you are calm. You could probably see the bench working tirelessly to plug gaps, the players were on auto-pilot towards the end but I thought that towards the end they had just about run out of ideas.

"I think they coped really well but you could never switch off until the final whistle goes.

"It is incredible moment for the supporters, they are going to be back in amongst the Europe's elite and it is where Celtic belong."

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