The UEFA Europa League playoff round is officially in the books, meaning that we can now start to look ahead to the group stage of the competition – but before then, it’s time to put some respect on the three British clubs that were able to come through last night’s ties: Wolverhampton Wanderers, Rangers and Celtic.
All three sides had work of some description to do in order to confirm their place in the group stage, but in the end, they were all able to handle the pressure. Wolves hosted Torino at Molineux and after winning the first leg 3-2, there was plenty of confidence in the air but at the same time, there was a realisation that this could all go incredibly wrong incredibly quickly.
Signed, sealed, delivered
Thankfully, despite a Torino fightback, they were able to win the second leg 2-1 and book their entry through into the group stage. Nuno’s men have done incredibly well to balance the start of their Premier League campaign with their European adventure, and now, the question is whether or not they will be able to sustain that throughout the course of the entire season. They’re good, but the legs are going to be pretty tired.
Then we had Rangers who arguably had the nerviest of times with their game. They were considered to be the favourites to progress against Legia Warsaw, but in the end, it was much trickier than anyone could’ve expected. The first leg ended goalless at 0-0 and then throughout the course of the second leg, it was evident to see that there was a great deal of tension in the air at Ibrox.
Thankfully for Rangers, Alfredo Morelos was able to put any lingering tension to bed when he knocked in the winner in injury time to send the Glasgow club back into the group stage. After everything their club has been through in the last decade or so, the fact that they’ve been able to pull this off two years in a row is a great testament to what they’re building there under the guidance of Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard.
Then we have their rivals Celtic, who managed to make pretty quick work of AIK earlier on in the day. They were already 2-0 up from the first leg, and they were pretty convincing in their 4-1 demolition over in Sweden. They’ll be looking towards a passage into the knockout stage of the Europa League again this year, but we’ll have to wait and see whether or not they can live up to that.
We have to take a minute to think of Linfield, too, who were unable to take that next step against Qarabag after heartbreak late in the game. The side from Azerbaijan were able to progress courtesy of the away goals rule, but it’s quite clear to see that there is a lot to build on for Linfield.
The draw will take place later on today, and we’ve got a feeling that there will be a few crackers in there.