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Scottish Premiership clubs in Europe: Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibernian on the brink of history

Celtic go direct into the Champions League group stage; Rangers will join them if they beat PSV and drop into the Europa League if they lose; Aberdeen play BK Hacken for a Europa League spot, with Conference League action guaranteed; Hearts and Hibs are in the Conference League playoffs

As we approach the end of August, often it has been a story of 'what if' when it comes to Scottish clubs competing in Europe.

Motherwell being stunned by Sligo Rovers and Dundee United equalling a record loss for a Scottish club against AZ Alkmaar left a sour taste in the mouth last season.

However, this time around things are very different. Never has there been five Scottish clubs feature in the group stages in the same season - but that dream is very much alive heading into the play-offs.

Hibernian and Hearts enjoyed a memorable night on Thursday to reach the Europa Conference League playoffs, with ties against Aston Villa and PAOK respectively awaiting the capital clubs.

The Champions League dream is still alive for Rangers, while Aberdeen will hope to reach the Europa League.

Plus, Celtic have their place among Europe's elite secured with another Champions League group stage campaign around the corner.

What the history books say...

Celtic were drawn in the same Champions League group as Real Madrid last season
Image: Celtic were drawn in the same Champions League group as Real Madrid last season

Between 2008 and 2022, Celtic and Rangers were the only Scottish teams to feature in European group stages, with Hearts ending that run last season.

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Aberdeen, Hibs, Dundee United, Motherwell and St Johnstone have all tried and failed in recent years to get beyond the play-off stage across various competitions.

It has therefore been down to the Old Firm clubs, and Hearts, to improve that all-important coefficient to its current position of ninth.

Rangers beat PSV Eindhoven to reach last season's Champions League group stages
Image: Rangers beat PSV Eindhoven to reach last season's Champions League group stages

It is Scotland's place inside the top 15 which means they have up to two teams in the Champions League conversation and five overall entering European competition.

The lack of wins in the Champions and Conference Leagues last term will hamper the coefficient from season 2024-25, when the new 36-team Champions League group stage format begins.


Celtic failed to take their chances in the Champions League
Image: Celtic failed to win a match in the Champions League last season

European action is something Celtic fans have been accustomed to - but last season was their first foray back into the Champions League group stages since returning boss Brendan Rodgers got them there during his first spell at the club.

The Hoops - under Ange Postecoglou - struggled to make an impact in that 2022/23 campaign, finishing bottom of Group F with two points.

This time around - Rodgers will be hoping to create more happy memories akin to some of those during his previous two Champions League group-stage campaigns with the club.

Celtic won away in the Champions League for the first time under Rodgers
Image: Celtic won away in the Champions League for the first time under Rodgers

He managed Celtic 42 times in European competition, winning 16 matches.

They drew with Manchester City home and away and secured their first away win in the competition with a 3-0 victory against Anderlecht in Brussels.

However, alongside the good times there have been some concerning results. Celtic lost 7-0 away to Barcelona in their first season under Rodgers with a 7-1 defeat at PSG in their second.

Celtic secured back-to-back draws against Manchester City
Image: Celtic secured back-to-back draws against Manchester City

The manager will also be keen to forget his first-ever European game in charge of the Parkhead side - a 1-0 defeat to Gibraltarian minnows Lincoln Red Imps in the first leg of a second-round qualifier.

Neil Lennon was in charge when the club last progressed to the knock-out stages in the 2012-13 season, losing 5-0 on aggregate to Italian giants Juventus.

The group stage awaits Rodgers and Celtic - the target will be to improve on last season as the champions mix it with Europe's elite.


Image: Rangers beat Servette to reach the Champions League play-offs

Rangers returned to the Champions League last season after more than a decade but it was a campaign to forget as they finished with the worst-ever group stage record.

Zero points and some heavy defeats, including 7-1 at home to Liverpool, did not make for good viewing but they have the chance to return to the main stage and try to make more of an impact.

A 3-2 aggregate win over Servette in the third qualifying round set up a play-off against PSV Eindhoven for the second successive season. Rangers stunned the Dutch side a year ago, knocking them out 3-2 on aggregate.

Rangers fell to a 7-1 defeat at home to Liverpool in the Champions League
Image: Rangers fell to a 7-1 defeat at home to Liverpool in the Champions League

It was only two seasons ago that the Ibrox side reached the Europa League final, a campaign Michael Beale was part of as a first-team coach before leaving with Steven Gerrard for Aston Villa.

In came Giovanni van Bronckhorst and the team saw off the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Red Star Belgrade and RB Leipzig before losing in the final to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Group-stage football in the Europa League is guaranteed but it is the Champions League that the fans and players will want to taste again.

Rangers reached the 2022 Europa League final
Image: Rangers reached the 2022 Europa League final

The current squad has a fresh feel about it with nine summer signings - but players from that group who got to the final in Seville in 2022 are still in the group - and that experience could prove vital as Rangers bid to impress on the continent once again.


Aberdeen last played BK Hacken in 2021
Image: Aberdeen last played BK Hacken in 2021

Aberdeen are guaranteed group-stage action in the Conference League, but will play in the Europa League if they can win their playoff.

The Dons will face Swedish side BK Hacken, a side they knocked out of European competition in 2021.

It ended in a 5-3 win for the Scottish club following a sensational 5-1 victory in the first leg.

Barry Robson's side will visit Gothenburg, the city in which they beat Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup final, for the first leg next Thursday.

Aberdeen last played in a group stage in the 2008 UEFA Cup. Fans have at least eight European occasions to look forward to this season, which will also be a huge financial boost for the Pittodrie club.


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Hearts boss Frankie McAvoy says his side showed their character after coming back from two goals down to beat Rosenborg 4-3 on aggregate in their Europa Conference League third qualifying round tie

Hearts produced a thrilling comeback against Rosenborg to keep their hopes of another season of European football alive.

Cammy Devlin scored a stoppage-time winner as they came from two goals behind on aggregate to eliminate Rosenborg 4-3 in a dramatic Europa Conference League third-qualifying round tie.

They now face a play-off with Greek side PAOK as they look to reach the Europa Conference League group stages for the second year running.

Hearts are the only Scottish team out with the Old Firm to play in Champions League qualifying
Image: Hearts played in Champions League qualifying in 2006.

Hearts dropped into the competition last season and earned around £5m from matches against Istanbul Basaksehir, Fiorentina and RFS.

The Jambos have reached Champions League qualifying once, in 2006, where they beat Bosnian champions Siroki Brijeg before losing to AEK Athens in the third qualifying round.


LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 17: Hibernian's Martin Boyle celebrates after scoring to make it 2-2 during a UEFA Conference League Qualifier between FC Luzern and Hibernian at the Swissporarena, on August 17, 2023, in Lucerne, Switzerland. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Image: Hibs beat Luzern to reach the Europa Conference League play-offs

Hibs finished fifth in the Scottish Premiership to make a return to European football after missing out last year and it has been quite a start.

After easing past Inter Club D'Escaldes 6-1 in the second qualifying round of the Europa Conference League, they beat Swiss outfit Luzern to set up a glamour tie with Aston Villa in the play-offs.

It will mark a return for former Easter Road hero John McGinn, who was part of their 2016 Scottish Cup-winning team, as Villa's captain.

John McGinn left Hibs for Aston Villa in 2018
Image: John McGinn left Hibs for Aston Villa in 2018

That Scottish Cup win saw Hibs enter the Europa League qualifiers the following season where they lost to Danish club Brondby on penalties.

They then returned to the competition in 2018 and reached the third qualifying round where they lost to Swedish outfit Molde.

After finishing third in the Premiership in 2020 they entered the newly established Conference League, beating Andorrans Santa Coloma before losing to Croatian side Rijeka.

'Tremendous' for the game

DINGWALL, SCOTLAND - JUNE 04: Chief Executive Officer of the Scottish Professional Football League Neil Doncaster during a cinch Premiership play-off final second leg match between Ross County and Partick Thistle at the Global Energy Stadium, on June 04, 2023, in Dingwall, Scotland.  (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Image: SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has praised the Scottish clubs in European action

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster told Sky Sports he is excited about what might lie ahead for Scottish clubs in Europe this season.

"Like every fan of Scottish football, I'm absolutely delighted that SPFL clubs are doing so well in Europe this year.

"It's early stages in some of the competitions, but the prospect of having so many Scottish clubs progressing is tremendous news for our game, both in terms of its heightened profile across Europe and in the significant commercial revenue which is generated by UEFA competitions.

"Performances like those we have seen in the past week are a testament to all the hard work that the clubs have put in over recent years, and we look forward to further success in the season ahead."

Scottish Premiership and SWPL on Sky Sports

SPFL ball for 2023/24 season

Sky Sports - Next season up to 48 cinch Premiership games will be available across Sky Sports' flagship channels, including Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event, plus at least five SWPL matches. From 2024/25, up to 60 cinch Premiership will be live on Sky Sports, in addition to the SWPL.

Sky Sports News - Running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Scottish football fans can enjoy Sky Sports News' (channel 409) rolling editorial coverage of the cinch Premiership and SWPL throughout the season.

Sky Sports Digital - Follow all the latest from Scottish football across and app, including exclusive features and interviews, plus dedicated live blog coverage, in-game clips from matches live on Sky Sports and free highlights.

Sky Sports Social - Alongside coverage and visibility for the league across all Sky Sports' main social media channels, the bespoke Twitter channel @ScotlandSky will continue to be the home of all Scottish football content on Sky Sports.

Highlights show - Tune in for a dedicated round-up from the cinch Premiership every week on Sky Sports Football.

To download the Sky Sports app click here, to visit Sky Sports website click here.

Sky Sports is the home of domestic football in the UK and Ireland, with more than 400 games per season across the Scottish Premiership, Scottish Women's Premier League, Premier League, WSL, and EFL.

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