22 Aug Celtic touching the prize
Brendan Rodgers believes a Champions League place is Celtic’s to lose ahead of the second-leg of their play-off against Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night.
The Hoops are 5-2 up from the first game at Parkhead and favourites to reach the group stages for the first time in three seasons.
Speaking at the Turner Stadium before his side trained, Rodgers addressed the commanding advantage his side have over the Israeli outfit.
“As a coach I only know too well if you don’t have maximum concentration in the game that you can concede goals,” he said.
“We always have to be aware of that.
“We respect Be’er Sheva and their qualities and they will be doing everything they possibly can to qualify.
“But the prize is with us and it is only for us to lose and we don’t intend to lose it very easily.
“I would be delighted of course to qualify.
“It has been our number one objective from the day we started.
“To lead Celtic into the Champions League would be a huge honour and great privilege.
“We have put in an awful lot of work, we have two hands on the prize and a tight grip on it and we just need to make sure we maintain that grip.
“But we still know there is a bit of work to do.”
Rodgers believes Celtic could take advantage of any gaps the home side may leave as they chase goals.
“It is a difficult one for them,” said the Northern Irishman.
“They are playing at their home stadium and they know they have to attack.
“The problem is when we have the pace we have in the team. There are big spaces if you leave yourself open and this is a team that can score goals.
“We are averaging nearly three goals a game so offensively we are very strong but we know it will be a tough game and their manager (Barak Bakhar) has done a fantastic job here.”
The former Liverpool boss claimed qualifying for the Champions League would have a positive knock-on effect not only for the Parkhead club but the rest of Scottish football.
He said: “When you are talking about the great clubs of Europe you are talking about clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan.
“You go through various countries and Celtic is synonymous with those clubs.
“To be back in among that echelon of team would be a great honour for Celtic, great for the supporters and allows our players to compete with the very best in European football.
“For Scotland as a whole, I think it is important.
“The game has maybe been knocked for a few years nationally but this would be a great tonic for the nation and would give everyone the opportunity to see predominantly Scottish players play against some of the world’s best.”
Hapoel Be’er Sheva boss Bakhar is hoping for the improbable as he tries to turn around the three-goal deficit and hopes the home support in the 16,000-capacity Turner Stadium can help.
He said: “In football there are games where the impossible happened.
“We will try to remember these games.
“It is a Champions League match, we will try to play well and not think about the result and we will see.
“Of course the fans will have a very significant part in the match.
“The crowd is very important – we saw it last week at Celtic Park.
“They can play a huge part in helping us produce an amazing performance.
“We learned a lot about Celtic and the target is to perform better than last time.
“We will try to do our best. The score is tough for us but we will try to do the club proud.
“My players give me the confidence we can do it.”