Belfast Telegraph

Linfield hold La Fiorita to scoreless away draw to set up Celtic clash at Windsor Park

By Graham Luney

Linfield can start preparing for one of the biggest matches in their history – a mouthwatering Champions League showdown against Scottish Premiership champions Celtic.

The Blues kept their cool in hot conditions in San Marino to see off La Fiorita 1-0 on aggregate in their first qualifying round battle, setting up the blockbuster with Brendan Rodgers' Invincibles.

A 1-0 first leg lead courtesy of Jordan Stewart's late strike at Windsor Park had given David Healy's side the edge and a scoreless draw in the reunion ensured the Danske Bank Premiership champions finished the job.

The Blues were rarely troubled while Andy Waterworth and Cameron Stewart did come close to breaking the deadlock in the first half.

La Fiorita, who had failed to win any of their 11 games in European competition, still believed they could spring a surprise but Nicola Berardi's side offered little penetration, urgency or creativity.

Jamie Mulgrew was booked near the end for a drive when he appeared to be pushed in the box but it mattered little.

Linfield will now pocket an embarrassment of riches as their clashes with the Hoops will earn them around £1million in prize money, gate receipts, television revenue, advertising and merchandising.

The first leg at Windsor Park on Friday, July 14 will have a 5pm kick off with negotiations under way for it to be broadcast live on television. The rematch at Parkhead is scheduled for Wednesday, July 19.

Celtic, citing security concerns, have stated they will not sell tickets to their supporters for the game in Belfast while Linfield will announce ticketing arrangements shortly.

Both Linfield and Celtic won domestic trebles last season with Rodgers' side even going through their Premiership campaign unbeaten.

But they did suffer one of the most embarrassing defeats in their history a year ago when the Carnlough man's first game in charge ended in a 1-0 loss to Gilbraltarian part-timers Lincoln Red Imps.

A 3-0 victory at Parkhead repaired the damage and the Hoops went onto the group stages but they failed to win any of their six games against Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach so Rodgers will be hungry to enjoy more success on the European stage this time round. Their next hurdle is Linfield.

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