| Newcastle United’s Shola Ameobi (top) tries to escape the challenge from NK Zeljeznicar’s Sanel Jaqhic in their Champions League qualifier at St James Park in Newcastle Wednesday. (Reuters)
London: AC Milan, Barcelona and Newcastle United booked their places in the Champions League group phase on Wednesday, but there was no room for Celtic caught out by Swiss club Basel in the third qualifying round.
Milan were beaten 2-1 at Slovan Liberec on the night, despite taking a 20th minute lead through Filippo Inzaghi, but qualified on the away goals rule having won the first leg 1-0 thanks to an Inzaghi strike.
Milan, five-times European champions, will now join the other 31 clubs in Thursday’s draw for the first group phase, which could be worth around $10 million per club.
Barcelona, who had trounced Legia Warsaw 3-0 in Spain, beat them again 1-0 through a second-half penalty from Gaizka Mendieta to secure their European pay-day.
Newcastle made no mistake either, romping to a 4-0 win over Bosnian minnows Zeljeznicar Sarajevo at St James’ Park for a 5-0 aggregate victory.
Midfielder Kieron Dyer helped them become England’s fourth representatives in the opening stage along with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, by scoring in both matches.
“It’s magnificent,” Dyer said. “Last season was a brilliant result for us but we knew we had two important games to get into the Champions League and I think we’ve done a professional job.”
The upset of the night came from Basel, who beat Scottish champions Celtic 2-0 to make it 3-3 on aggregate and secure victory on the away goals rule. Celtic, who in 1967 became the first British club to win the European Cup, had looked in charge of the first leg a fortnight ago despite falling behind to an ultimately decisive away goal.
On Wednesday they were floored by early strikes from Christian Giminez and Murat Yakin as the Swiss double winners held on for a remarkable win.
“We had an advantage going into the game and we wanted to preserve that in the first 25 minutes,” Celtic manager Martin O’Neill said.
“In that period we conceded two goals and we had to abandon the plan. We had to score...it but it was not to be.”
Seven other sides also made into the draw, led by AEK Athens, who beat APOEL Nicosia 1-0 for a 4-2 aggregate win, and Dynamo Kiev, who repeated their earlier 1-0 victory over Levski Sofia.
Austria’s two representatives went out 5-3 on aggregate after drawing 3-3 on Wednesday, with Israel’s Maccabi Haifa seeing off Sturm Graz in a game which both sides finished with 10 men, while Lokomotiv Moscow knocked out Graz AK.
Auxerre’s 0-0 home draw with Boavista put the Burgundy club through 1-0 over the two legs, Rosenborg defeated Brondby 3-2 on the night after winning the first leg 1-0, but Bruges needed a penalty shootout to dispatch Shakhtar Donetsk after two 1-1 draws.
“We played well in the first half and eased off the pace in the second half but we made every effort to play our best,” said Carlo Ancelotti.
“Slovan played very well and was holding back our play a little bit... We knew this match will not be easy and Slovan will not be an easy opponent. But we are doing everything we can to improve our play.”
Inzaghi, whose goal gave his side a 1-0 home victory in the first leg two weeks ago, scored to help calm the ambitious Italian team and leave the Czech hosts chasing the game early on.
Rui Costa’s pass left Liberec defence behind and allowed Milan striker Inzaghi to score after shooting past exposed Liberec goalkeeper Antonin Kinsky into the net.
The early goal appeared to calm the Italian side and Milan players had taken dominance in the field for the reminder of the first half.
But a mistake from Paolo Maldini gifted the Czechs a way back into the game a minute after the break, allowing striker Miroslav Slepicka to shoot from close range and give Milan keeper Dida no chance.
The Czech champions struck a surprise second two minutes from time when Liberec midfielder David Langer nodded a header into the left corner.
But his delight was short-lived as he was sent off in injury time after receiving a second yellow card.
Brazilian World Cup winner Rivaldo replaced Costa in the 70th minute to make his first competitive appearance for the club he joined from Barcelona in July.
The striker, however, kept a relatively low-profile and only made one shot towards goal.