What round will Celtic, Rangers and Hearts start in Europe next season as Hibs wildcard changes the rules

European soccer.

It’s the topic on everyone’s lips as we head into the final few games of the Premiership season.

For title-chasing Celtic and Rangers, it’s all about securing guaranteed group stage Champions League football and the £40m payout that comes with it.

Edinburgh’s big two have plenty to play for as well though on the European stage and Scottish Cup glory for Hearts or Hibs would also guarantee group stage European football.

And that would be the first for a team outside of Glasgow in well over a decade, since the Granite City came alive in a season where Aberdeen hosted Bayern Munich in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup.

Outside of that, there are seven teams vying for fourth and fifth and there is plenty of uncertainty as to who will finish where – and what that could mean for their European hopes.

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It all comes down to the cup winners with Hibs holding the key to wreak havoc on their rivals’ European dreams.

RecordSport have done our best to clear it all up with a complete rundown of the permutations for everyone involved.


It’s the most exciting Premiership title race in years, and not just because of how close it is between Celtic and chasers Rangers.

The added incentive of a guaranteed Champions League group stage place makes it that bit more important with a huge £40m payout on the line.

A top 10 place in UEFA’s coefficient standings means that it is on the line and Celtic will be hopeful of fending off the challenge from Ibrox and making sure of that.

Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou

Even if they don’t win the league, however, there is plenty to play for.

Second place would also leave them a back door into European football’s top competition with the runners up going into the second qualifying round – three rounds from the group stage proper, but just one from securing group stage football in one of the three competitions.

The Scottish Cup is of no bearing in terms of their European place as the top two Premiership spots supersede the cup winners.

Premiership Winners : Champions League group stage

Premiership runners-up : Champions League second qualifying round


Almost exactly the same goes for Rangers – except Gio van Bronckhorst’s team have the Europa League still in play.

And while the prospect of going all the way is still a distant ambition, you can’t write off anyone at the quarter-final stage.

Certainly not when they have already sent Borussia Dortmund packing.

Ryan Kent celebrates against Red Star Belgrade

With Braga lying in wait in the last eight, Gers’ active European campaign means they have two routes straight into the Champions League group stage – they can do it by winning either the Europa League or by winning the Premiership.

Failure to do either would see them go into the second qualifying round.

Similar to Celtic, though, that is their worst case scenario with a 20-point gap over third-placed Hearts.

Europa League winners : Champions League group stage

Premiership Winners : Champions League group stage

Premiership runners up, not Europa League win : Champions League second qualifying round


A number of things could still happen for Hearts.

They are virtually guaranteed third in the Premiership, which means a minimum place in the Europa Conference League third qualifying round.

In reality though that is just a fall-back as the Scottish Cup offers Robbie Neilson’s team a route to greater riches.

The cup winners go into the Europa League playoff round, where even defeat would secure a Conference League group stage spot.

And with a semi-final with Hibs lying in wait, Neilson will be realistically hopeful of his team doing that.

However as an added incentive, in the event of one of the league’s top two lifting the trophy, the cup winners’ spot defers to third place in the Premiership.

That means that if Hearts, Celtic or Rangers win the cup, the Europa League playoff spot goes to the Tynecastle club.

So in effect, if they beat Hibs at Hampden, they are guaranteed group stage European football after the summer.

As if they needed any more motivation ahead of the huge derby.

Scottish Cup Winners : Europa League play-off

3rd place (Celtic or Rangers win the cup) : Europa League play-off

3rd place (Hibs win the cup) : Europa Conference League third qualifying round


The only other side who can guarantee group stage European football, for Hibs it’s simple.

Beat Hearts and overturn one of the Glasgow sides in the Scottish Cup final, and they steal that Europa League playoff spot from under their rivals’ noses.

Anything less and they’re battling it out for whatever fourth or fifth place may bring them.

Hibs Manager Shaun Maloney

That would be a spot in either the second or third qualifying round of the Europa Conference League – provided they finish in the top five.

But sixth or worse, with things still as tight as they are, and it’s curtains for their European hopes.

Scottish Cup Winners : Europa League play-off

4th place : Europa Conference League third qualifying round

5th place : Europa Conference League second qualifying round

6th place or lower : Do not qualify

Other European contestants

But while the rest of the league cannot secure the guarantee of group stage football through a potential cup win, there is plenty left to play for through league placings.

As things stand, Dundee United, Livingston, Ross County, Motherwell and Aberdeen can all still make a break for fourth or fifth.

And both of those spots will earn a Europa Conference League qualifying spot as long as Hibs don’t win the Scottish Cup and finish outside of the top four.

If that worst case scenario comes to pass, only fourth place will be worth a European spot, with third-placed Hearts then going into Conference League third qualifying round.

The other top six teams would then be battling for fourth and the second qualifying round spot that comes with it.

4th place (if top four team wins the cup) : Europa Conference League third qualifying round

5th place (if top four team wins the cup) : Europa Conference League second qualifying round

4th place (if team outside top four wins the cup) : Europa Conference League second qualifying round

5th place(if team outside top four wins the cup):Do not qualify

6th place or lower : Do not qualify


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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