So last week saw Celtic kick off their second Champions League meeting with Stjarnan. Already two goals to the good, most fans would have expected an easy ride, but as soon as the whistle sounded Stjarnan showed plenty of promise in their attack early on.
The game wasn’t playing out the way Ronny Deila would have liked and it wasn’t long before his side suffered an early scare, with the Icelandic part-timers netting after only six minutes as Olafur Karl Finsen shot the home side into a shock lead.
Watching the game from at home I just had a terrible feeling in my gut about this tie. Was this to be a repeat of last year? Thankfully, Celtic calmed their nerves with an equaliser on 32 minutes, a goal courtesy of Nir Bitton.
An early second-half goal from Charlie Mulgrew saw the Bhoys pretty much seal the deal. Leigh Griffiths was introduced as substitute with less than half an hour to go and he put one away himself, along with Stefan Johansen, who made it 4-1 on the night and 6-1 on aggregate.
After the game fans took to Twitter to voice their opinions on Griffiths.
— Celtic FC News (@Celtic1888News) July 26, 2015
As you can see, many believe he should be Ronny’s first choice and after his performances over the last few weeks it’s hard for me to disagree. Should Celtic’s top goal scorer from last season be left out of the starting 11? He deserves a start.
Despite the nerve-wrecking first few minutes, Celtic took control of the game and by the end made it look easy. There’s no rest for the wicked and Celtic’s next opponents in the third qualifying round this Wednesday are Azerbaijan side FK Qarabag, a side that will be another level up to what the Hoops have experienced in the qualifiers so far.
With the first leg at home, Ronny will be hoping for a decent scoreline to take away with him for the second leg next week. Don’t let the unfamiliar name dupe you, many may not have heard of Qarabag, but I’ve studied their performances in the last round against Rudar. They’re resilient and very tough to break down. From what I have seen, it could well be a closer affair than what some might expect.
With Celtic kicking off their league campaign this Saturday against Ross County it’s vital the Bhoys are focused. Champions League football means everything to the fans and, as I explained in last week’s column, it’ll be a long season ahead if we don’t progress.
Ronny Deila was adamant in his post-match interview that his side needed to improve and he identified Qarabag as a good team himself. He also watched them play in their first leg at home against Rudar, and admitted it’s a big step up from what Celtic have previously faced so far this year.
Ronny gave a fair evaluation of the Stjarnan game overall and was critical of Celtic’s sloppy start, but he was content with their showing in the second-half when we were the only real threat.
So what are Celtic to expect from the Azerbaijan champions? Well the first thing to keep an eye on will be the likes of Brazilian striker Reynaldo, but taking a look at Qarabag’s results from last year’s Europa League campaign would be enough to have most Celtic fans slightly worried.
Technically, they’re very sound, so it should be a difficult match-up for both sides, but hopefully Celtic can put the tie to bed at Celtic Park, so that it’s not all left up to a nerve-shattering evening away in Azerbaijan.
- The first leg between Celtic and Qarabag will take place on Wednesday, July 29, with kick off at 7.45pm.