GLASGOW, Aug 17, (AFP): Celtic have one foot in the Champions League group stages after a Scott Sinclair double helped his side to a 5-0 thrashing of Astana in their play-off round first leg in Glasgow.
An own-goal from Evgeni Postnikov opened the scoring in the 32nd minute before Sinclair doubled Celtic’s advantage 10 minutes later.
The English winger then grabbed his sixth goal of the season on the hour before James Forrest added another in the 79th minute.
Leigh Griffiths helped round off the rout in the 79th minute with a deflection off Igor Shitov to help the Scottish champions secure a commanding advantage to take to Kazakhstan for the return leg next Tuesday.
It is a major boost for Brendan Rodgers’ side who are now within touching distance of sealing their place in the lucrative group stages for a second successive season.
After soaking up the pressure, Astana were arguably enjoying their best spell of the half when Celtic took the lead.
Australian midfielder Tom Rogic confidently took a perfectly weighted through ball from Mikel Lustig in his stride before charging down the right wing.
The Socceroo star then got the break of the ball as he cut into the box before clipping a shot over Aleksandr Mokin that was going wide before Postnikov applied the finishing touch to send it into his own net.
With half-time looming, Sinclair doubled Celtic’s advantage.
The winger beat the offside trap to race on to a deflected ball and burst into the box before sending a shot into the far corner from a tight angle.
Sinclair then took advantage of hesitation in the Astana defence to make it 3-0.
Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan allowed play to continue after Rogic and Ivan Maevski’s clash of heads and Sinclair played a neat one-two with Griffiths before slotting through the legs of Mokin.
Griffiths was again the architect of Celtic’s fourth. The striker held the ball up after collecting a long pass before knocking into the path of the on-running Forrest, who sent a low angled shot past Mokin.
The Celtic striker looked to have got the goal his play deserved late on when he controlled a pass from substitute Stuart Armstrong, cut into the box and sent a deflected shot past the helpless ‘keeper’.
Napoli took a big step towards the Champions League group stage with a 2-0 win over outclassed nine-man Nice in their play-off, first-leg in Italy on Wednesday.
The Riviera side were down to nine men after 79 minutes when Alassane Pléa was sent off for a second yellow card just after Vincent Koziello’s straight dismissal.
Belgian midfielder Dries Mertens had slotted in the opener after 13 minutes with Jorginho doubling the hosts’ account with a penalty after 70 minutes. It was a third straight defeat for Lucien Favre’s side who have lost their first two French Ligue 1 matches, and travelled without Mario Balotelli and new signing Wesley Sneijder.
Napoli, third in Serie A and in the Champions League last 16 last year, were a class above the French punishing defensive errors in front of a delighted 50,000 home fans at the San Paolo Stadium.
Napoli took control of the game early with Mertens outwitting the Nice defence and taking advantage of an error by Yoan Cardinale to slot past the advancing Nice goalkeeper.
And in the 70th minute it was again Mertens, brought down by Christophe Jallet, who earned the penalty which Jorginho slotted in.
Despite his initial error Cardinale made some key saves against Joe Callejon (15), Mertens (21) and two Lorenzo Insigne efforts after 42 and 67 minutes. The Italians also other missed chances to increase their advantage with Insigne hitting the woodwork after 51 minutes.
Nice played the final ten minutes with nine men after first Koziello was shown a straight red card for a dangerous tackle on Piotr Zielinski.
Plea was then dismissed for a second yellow card, allowing the Italians to wrap up a deserved victory ahead of their Serie A opener on Saturday. Maurizio Sarri’s side are now ideally placed to join Juventus and AS Roma in the group stage as Nice have it all to do in the return home leg in the Allianz Riviera stadium on Aug 22.
Spanish side Sevilla also set themselves up for a place in the group stage alongside Liga rivals Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid by beating Istanbul Basaksehir 2-1 in Turkey.
Franco-Tunisian forward Wisam Ben Yedder, picked up a backheeled pass from Jesus Navas, to seal the winner six minutes from time. Sergio Escudero opened for Sevilla after 16 minutes with Eljero Elia getting the equaliser after 64 minutes.
Elsewhere Hapoel Beer-Sheva beat Maribor of Slovenia 2-1 at home in Israel while Olympiacos beat Croatian side Rijeka by the same score in Greece.