Belfast Telegraph

San Marino trip is Linfield's biggest game in 50 years, says club legend

The prize is so great, Blues can't afford to lose: Ferguson

By Steven Beacom

Linfield legend Glenn Ferguson believes tonight's Champions League game against La Fiorita is the club's biggest in Europe for 50 years due to the prospect of facing Glasgow giants Celtic in the next round.

The Blues enter this evening's first qualifying round second leg in San Marino 1-0 ahead from last week's corresponding fixture at Windsor Park, with manager David Healy confident his players can finish the job.

Healy's former Northern Ireland team-mate Ferguson, who won every domestic trophy several times over in a glittering 11-year spell at Linfield, feels the same way, and that would set up the Blues for a big-money clash with Brendan Rodgers' Celtic.

Even allowing for the financial benefits, Ferguson says a potential Champions League clash with Celtic would far outweigh anything in Europe that has gone before for Linfield, bar when the Blues reached the European Cup quarter-finals 50 years ago.

"Facing Celtic would be incredible for the club, the manager and the players," said Spike. "That would be massive. It probably wouldn't be as big or as important as when Linfield played in a European Cup quarter-final in 1967, but it will be made out to be bigger because of all the hype that comes with a game against Celtic."

READ MORE: How to watch Linfield's game against La Fiorita live as Celtic await the winners

Ferguson continued: "What is certain is that the second leg against La Fiorita is a huge match in Linfield's history. If Linfield get through to the second round they will make a lot of money. The fact that they would play Celtic means they could make a lot more.

"The one game I would compare it to would be when Linfield could have played AC Milan in 1993 had they beaten Copenhagen in the Champions League. The thing about that tie though was they didn't know Milan were waiting in the draw as it was made after the Copenhagen defeat.

"This time, Linfield know they will play Celtic if they win. "Not that they need any extra incentive, but to have the chance of playing against Celtic - what a carrot that is.

"Imagine the experience for the Linfield players playing at Parkhead. It would be fantastic. The reward for Linfield players if they do the business against La Fiorita is to play one of the biggest names in European football and a club who won the European Cup in 1967."

Ferguson, known throughout the game as Spike and now the Academy Director at Linfield, was an interested spectator at last week's first leg. He believes that in captain Jamie Mulgrew, the Blues have an inspirational figure for tonight's crunch game.

"Jamie Mulgrew is one of those players who gets better the older they get," said the 47-year-old. "The last two years in particular he has been outstanding. He drives the team on and will be a key player in this game.

"I thought last week Jamie Mulgrew and Stephen Lowry dictated in midfield, and when they play well Linfield tend to play well and win. Defensively they are sound and having Roy Carroll in goal is great.

"What let Linfield down in the first leg was their crossing. They got themselves into really promising positions, and I'd say there were around 25 good crossing chances and they maybe delivered four times, so they will look to improve on that.

"Having said that, it was difficult last week because La Fiorita had nine or 10 bodies behind the ball so they were hard to break down.

"In the second leg La Fiorita have to score, so when the game is stretched that will suit Linfield because the Blues are better than them.

"In my opinion, Linfield have more quality, and that should see them through."

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