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Celtic out to clear first Euro hurdle at Scottish rugby HQ

21 Jul 2014 00:16:52

Celtic out to clear first Euro hurdle at Scottish rugby HQ

Scottish champions Celtic will look to wrap up their Champions League second qualifying round tie against Icelandic side KR Reykjavik in the unfamiliar surroundings of Murrayfield on Tuesday.

Celtic hold a slender 1-0 advantage ahead of the return leg which will be played in Edinburgh at the home of Scottish rugby with Celtic Park out of commission due to the Commonwealth Games.

Debutant Callum McGregor struck an 84th-minute winner for the Hoops in the Icelandic capital a week ago as new boss Ronny Deila made a winning start to his tenure after replacing Neil Lennon last month.

Should Celtic progress the winner between St. Patrick's Athletic and Legia Warsaw, who drew the first leg 1-1 in Poland, would await Deila's men in the third qualifying round.

Striker Anthony Stokes says qualifying for the Champions League group stage, which would require Celtic to also advance from a subsequent play-off round, is imperative for the Glasgow giants.

"One of the big things for me this year is getting to the group stages," Stokes told Celtic View, the club's official magazine.

"Doing well in Europe is a big goal for me and the team and it's a challenge I'm looking forward to, and hopefully we can have a better campaign than last year."

Celtic reached the round of 16 in 2012/13 but were eliminated in the group stage a year ago after finishing bottom of a pool that featured Barcelona, Milan and Ajax.

However, Stokes, who netted 20 goals as Celtic strolled to a third straight domestic league title last season, is hoping for another crack at Europe's premier club competition.

"This season our main aim is to get through these qualifiers, win the matches and get to the group stages and we will be doing everything in our power to be fit and ready to win those games," said the Ireland international.

Defender Efe Ambrose, who was part of the Nigeria squad that reached the last 16 of the World Cup in Brazil, warned that he and his teammates could not afford to be complacent despite facing far less illustrious opponents.

"Last season we lost to Karagandy and it was a terrible picture for us and we don't want to experience that any more this season," said Ambrose, referring to a 2-0 defeat to then Kazakh champions Shakhter Karagandy in the first leg of last year's play-off round.

Celtic won the return leg at home 3-0 to qualify for the group stage but that scare is not one Ambrose wishes to repeat.

"It doesn't matter who we play, the most important thing is for us to prepare well and get the win," he stressed.

Captain Scott Brown is a long-term absentee while fellow midfielder Kris Commons was forced out of Saturday's friendly against German third-tier side Dynamo Dresden.

Deila, though, was hopeful last year's top scorer would be fit in time for the visit of the Icelandic champions.

"He got a knee in his thigh," said the Celtic coach. "It can hurt but I don't think it's very big and I hope he's ready for Tuesday."


AFP

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