Celtic’s hopes of advancing in the Europa League were agonizingly dashed as a late retaliation from Bayer Leverkusen denied them a famous victory in Germany.
The spirited team of nge Postecoglou knew they would probably need a win to keep their last 32 dream alive and they were on track for that result until the finals after a penalty from Josip Juranovic and a strike from Jota nullified Robert Andrich’s first goal for the hosts.
However, Leverkusen hit back twice in the last eight minutes to win 3-2 and dominate the group.
The result means Celtic will join the Conference League after Christmas, with Real Betis moving to the Europa League as a finalist.
Celtic made a change to the squad that beat St Johnstone in the Premier Sports Cup semi-finals last weekend, with Hampden hero James Forrest making his first start in more than three months in place of Liel Abada.
The Germans signaled their intention in the 10th minute when Andrich took off from a corner from Florian Wirtz.
Celtic looked fairly comfortable at first, although Cameron Carter-Vickers had to make a vital clearance from inside his own six-yard box when former Hoops right-back Jeremie Frimpong s ‘dashed into the box and pierced a dangerous low ball in the face. goal in the 12th minute.
The visitors ignored the warning from Leverkusen’s opening corner, and fell behind in the 16th minute when Andrich took the lead over Stephen Welsh for another Wirtz performance.
Celtic had a rare forward foray in the 35th minute, which allowed David Turnbull to throw a deep ball for Kyogo Furuhashi, but the offside flag was raised when the Japanese striker burst in. into the box and fired a low angle shot just behind the far post.
After being held up for long stretches of the match, the visitors were tied in the 39th minute with a penalty awarded following a VAR review after Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky recklessly collided with Kyogo while trying to defend a cross in Jota’s box.
Hradecky received a warning and Juranovic produced an outrageously nonchalant finish with a Panenka-style kick under the crossbar.
Juranovic was fortunate enough to come off with a gap in the 44th minute when he gave the ball inexpensively just outside his box, allowing Moussa Diaby to shoot a powerful angled half volley at the junction of the post and the bar before Wirtz sends the rebound crashing against the post opposite.
Celtic had another major drop eight minutes after the break when Joe Hart made a brilliant double save to turn off Diaby and then Amine Adli.
Remarkably, Celtic took the lead in the 56th minute when Jota pierced a low-angle clinical shot just inside the box after being dragged by Kyogo following a brilliant play from Forrest and Nir Bitton.
Hart made a few saves to deny Adli as the Scots began to believe they could come close to their first win in Germany.
But Andrich dashed their hopes in the 82nd minute when he pierced a low shot in Hart’s legs from 12 yards after being set up by substitute Nadiem Amiri.
And the hosts took the win in the 87th minute when Diaby came home after being selected by a chipped pass from Wirtz.