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Chris Flanagan

Explained: Why Fiorentina have cost Celtic and Rangers an automatic Champions League group stage spot

Viktoria Plzen took on Fiorentina.

Celtic and Rangers have lost their automatic place in the Champions League group stage for 2025/26 – because Fiorentina failed to win at Viktoria Plzen on Thursday night.

The Scottish Premiership champions have qualified directly for the group stage in each of the past three campaigns, and will do so again next season too. But only the top 10 countries in UEFA’s club rankings receive automatic spots, and it’s now been confirmed that Scotland have fallen outside of the top 10 following their clubs’ performance in Europe this season.

Scotland went into the current campaign in ninth place in the rankings, which are based on results over the past five seasons. That includes performances like Rangers’ run to the Europa League final in 2022.

This season though, Celtic finished bottom of their Champions League group after qualifying automatically as Scottish champions, while Rangers lost in the last 16 of the Europa League. Aberdeen went out in the Conference League group stage, with Hearts and Hibernian not even making it that far.

That has seen Scotland overtaken not only by Turkey, for whom Fenerbahce have reached the Conference League quarter-finals, and also now Czech Republic.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Czechs moved themselves into contention when Viktoria Plzen reached the last eight of the Conference League – they needed just one more draw in the competition this season to move their country above Scotland in the rankings.

That came on Thursday night, when Plzen drew at home to Fiorentina in their quarter-final first leg, ensuring that Scotland will definitely be outside the top 10 of the rankings at the end of the season.

That doesn’t affect qualification for next season’s competition, with the Scottish champions again set to receive an automatic group stage spot in 2024-25, and the runners-up going into the Champions League’s third qualifying round.

For 2025-26 though, their automatic group stage spot will be gone. It could potentially be rescued via another method if Rangers win the league next term, with the Champions League’s new format giving an extra group stage spot to a team who have performed well in Europe in recent years. The Gers would be in contention for that spot, following their relatively recent Europa League final appearance.

But as things stand now, Scotland is not guaranteed a spot in the Champions League group stage for 2025-26.

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