Celtic’s hopes of Europa League progression were extinguished after a late collapse condemned them to defeat at Bayer Leverkusen.
The Scottish club were on course for a first win in Germany after fighting back with an audacious Josip Juranovic penalty – awarded after a VAR check – and a second-half Jota strike.
But Robert Andrich, whose header had given the hosts an early lead, equalised in the 82nd minute and Moussa Diaby thumped in the winner to secure top spot for Leverkusen.
It leaves Celtic four points behind second-place Real Betis, who beat Ferencvaros 2-0, with the Spaniards visiting Glasgow next month in their final group fixture.
Celtic were already assured of third place and a Europa Conference play-off spot, where they will face a runner-up from that tournament, but the nature of this defeat will sting after a promising performance.
Celtic were taught a harsh lesson in finishing when ruthless Leverkusen racked up a 4-0 win in Glasgow in September, but that proved a turning point for Postecoglou’s men, who had won eight and drawn one since.
They had goalkeeper Joe Hart’s heroics – and the woodwork to thank – for a turnaround that would have made history on the club’s 13th visit to Germany.
But Leverkusen’s barrage of late pressure overwhelmed Celtic, whose have conceded the highest number of goals in the group stage as their defensive frailties were again laid bare.
They fell behind amid a flurry of early home pressure, having not heeded an earlier warning when Andrich rose unchallenged to head over.
The midfielder made no mistake second time round, running from the edge of the box to meet another Florian Wirtz corner and guide a header in at the far post.
Celtic staged a spirited response, showing composure in possession and pressing with intensity, but were struggling to make inroads in the final third.
When they fashioned a first effort at goal after 40 minutes, it provided the equaliser. Jota swung a dangerous cross into the penalty box and goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky got nowhere near the ball as his attempt to punch clear caught Kyogo flush in the face.
Juranovic – back on penalty duties with Giorgios Giakoumakis injured – was calmness personified with a chipped spot-kick down the middle that kissed the bar on its way in.
The woodwork smiled on Celtic again to keep them level before half-time. Juranovic overran the ball on the edge of the box and Diaby rattled a ferocious angled drive off the near post before Wirtz stabbed the rebound off the opposite upright.
Another scare followed swiftly after the restart, with Hart blocking Diaby’s effort with his legs then diving at the feet of Amine Adli to prevent the winger tapping in.
It was an incredible double save. And Hart wasn’t done there, sparking the move that gave Celtic the lead with a throw-out to James Forrest in the opposition half.
The visitors worked the ball slickly into the box where former Celtic full-back Jeremie Frimpong’s slip allowed Kyogo to lay the ball off for Jota to whip a shot past the helpless Hradecky.
With half an hour to go, Celtic dropped deeper but kept Leverkusen out as Hart parried an Adli strike over the bar.
Hart made another terrific stop to divert Adli’s shot over with a foot, even though the 21-year-old looked yards offside, and Celtic were made to rue that decision in the next phase of play.
Nadiem Amiri cushioned a Wirtz cross back to Andrich for an empathic finish through the goalkeeper’s legs.
Leverkusen kept up the momentum Diaby lashed home a bouncing strike on the edge of the box from a delicious scooped pass from Wirtz, before David Turnbull had a close-range effort tipped wide in the final seconds as Celtic’s exit was confirmed.
- Bayer Leverkusen have never lost a home UEFA Europa League group stage match in 15 previous games (W12 D3) – the most of any side without losing in the competition’s history.
- Celtic have scored 2+ goals in each of their last four away games in the UEFA Europa League, however they’ve gone on to win just one of those matches (L3), beating Ferencvárosi TC 3-2 at the start of the month.
- Celtic have conceded at least once in 26 of their 28 away UEFA Europa League games, conceding in each of their last 11 such matches in the competition, since a 1-0 win in Rosenborg back in November 2018.
- Florian Wirtz has been directly involved in ten goals in 13 UEFA Europa League appearances for Bayer Leverkusen (5 goals, 5 assists).
- Robert Andrich has scored three goals in his last three appearances for Bayer Leverkusen in all competitions, more than he netted in his first nine appearances for the club this season (2).
- Celtic’s Josip Juranovic has had two attempts on goal in this season’s UEFA Europa League campaign, both penalties which he converted.
More to follow.
- 1HrádeckyBooked at 39mins
- 33HincapiéSubstituted forSinkgravenat 75′minutes
- 25PalaciosBooked at 33mins
- 7Sampaio FilhoSubstituted forAmiriat 75′minutes
- 27WirtzSubstituted forTapsobaat 89′minutes
- 20Carter-VickersBooked at 69mins
- 6BittonSubstituted forMcCarthyat 76′minutes
- 49ForrestSubstituted forAbadaat 72′minutes
- 17Neves FilipeSubstituted forJohnstonat 72′minutes
- 8FuruhashiSubstituted forAjetiat 76′minutes
- Anastasios Sidiropoulos
Match ends, Bayer 04 Leverkusen 3, Celtic 2.
Second Half ends, Bayer 04 Leverkusen 3, Celtic 2.
Corner, Celtic. Conceded by Lukás Hrádecky.
Attempt saved. David Turnbull (Celtic) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner.
Attempt blocked. Nadiem Amiri (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Moussa Diaby.
Robert Andrich (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Callum McGregor (Celtic).
Corner, Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Conceded by Anthony Ralston.
Nadiem Amiri (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Liel Abada (Celtic).
Attempt blocked. Anthony Ralston (Celtic) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Michael Johnston.
Substitution, Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Edmond Tapsoba replaces Florian Wirtz.
Corner, Celtic. Conceded by Daley Sinkgraven.
Goal! Bayer 04 Leverkusen 3, Celtic 2. Moussa Diaby (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Florian Wirtz.
Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Michael Johnston (Celtic).
Attempt blocked. Amine Adli (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) right footed shot from the left side of the six yard box is blocked. Assisted by Jonathan Tah.
Attempt missed. Jonathan Tah (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) header from the centre of the box misses to the left following a corner.
Corner, Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Conceded by James McCarthy.
Goal! Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2, Celtic 2. Robert Andrich (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Nadiem Amiri.