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Brendan Rodgers Euro dream ticket as Celtic share Manchester City and Barcelona top billing

By Graham Luney

Published 26/08/2016

Celtic fans cheer before the the Champions League qualifying playoffs second leg soccer match in against Hapoel in Beersheba, Israel, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Celtic fans cheer before the the Champions League qualifying playoffs second leg soccer match in against Hapoel in Beersheba, Israel, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Celtic's Saidy Janko, left, and Hapoel BeerSheva's Ofir Davidzada fight for the ball during the Champions League qualifying playoffs second leg soccer match in Beersheba, Israel,Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Hapoel Beer Sheva fans wave Israeli flags before the UEFA Champions League group stages play-off football match between Celtic and Hapoel Beer Sheva at the Turner Stadium in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva on August 23, 2016. The game is being played in the most southerly stadium in European competition history, UEFA confirmed. / AFP PHOTO / GIL COHEN-MAGENGIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP/Getty Images
Celtic's Scott Sinclair (back) dribbles the ball as Hapoel's John Ogu defends during the UEFA Champions League group stages play-off football match between Celtic and Hapoel Beer Sheva at the Turner Stadium in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva on August 23, 2016. The game is being played in the most southerly stadium in European competition history, UEFA confirmed. / AFP PHOTO / GIL COHEN-MAGENGIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP/Getty Images
Celtic's Callum McGregor, left, and Hapoel BeerSheva's Shir Tzedek fight for the ball during the Champions League qualifying playoffs second leg soccer match in Beersheba, Israel,Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Hapoel's Ben Bitton (L) tries to tackle Celtic's Scott Sinclair (C) during the UEFA Champions League group stages play-off football match between Celtic and Hapoel Beer Sheva at the Turner Stadium in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva on August 23, 2016. The game is being played in the most southerly stadium in European competition history, UEFA confirmed. / AFP PHOTO / GIL COHEN-MAGENGIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP/Getty Images
Hapoel Beer Sheva fans wave Israeli flags before the UEFA Champions League group stages play-off football match between Celtic and Hapoel Beer Sheva at the Turner Stadium in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva on August 23, 2016. The game is being played in the most southerly stadium in European competition history, UEFA confirmed. / AFP PHOTO / GIL COHEN-MAGENGIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP/Getty Images
Hapoel Beer Sheva's Miguel Vitor, left, and Celtic's Leigh Griffiths fight for the ball during the Champions League qualifying playoffs second leg soccer match in Beersheba, Israel,Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Brendan Rodgers said that Celtic belong among Europe's elite and now he has the opportunity to prove it.

The Carnlough man's Champions League adventure with the Hoops will be a thrilling one after the Scottish champions were drawn in Group C alongside Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach, with City boss Pep Guardiola's reunion with his old club Barca sparking huge interest.

Guardiola will return to the Spanish giants where he won the competition twice during a glittering four-year spell in charge at the Nou Camp.

The Hoops qualified for the first time in three seasons with a 5-4 aggregate win over Israeli side Hapoel Be'er Sheva and their last game in European football's premier club competition ended in a 6-1 defeat in Barcelona but the Parkhead faithful are dreaming of more glory nights and Rodgers may wish to consult his fellow Ulsterman Neil Lennon who masterminded a stunning victory over Barca in 2012.

"It could've been easier," said Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell.

"There's some real glamour ties in there - some really great nights ahead at Celtic Park.

"I don't think they will be relishing coming to us with the supporters, the atmosphere, the occasion we put on there. It couldn't be any more difficult but Brendan has got off to a great start.

"It has been a remarkable first couple of months for him."

Surprise Premier League winners Leicester came out in Group G with Porto, Club Brugge and Crusaders’ conquerors FC Copenhagen while runners-up Arsenal will face Paris St Germain, Basel and Bulgarian side Ludogorets in Group A.

Tottenham, returning to the Champions League for the first time since the 2010-11 season, will play CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco in Group E.

Celtic reached the group stage via a tortuous qualifying route involving ties against Lincoln Red Imps, Astana and Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Hoops defender Kieran Tierney, who missed the 3-1 loss to the Catalan giants in the International Champions Cup match in Dublin at the end of July, said: “It is a great draw, three great teams. That is why you are in the Champions League, to play against the best.

“People asked me who I wanted, but I really didn’t mind because you are going to get three great teams and six great games.

“I have always thought that Barca are the best team in the world with Lionel Messi and players like that.

“Growing up, it was brilliant to watch them and now hopefully I can play against them.”

Patrick Roberts is on loan at Celtic from Manchester City but the English side’s director of football, Txiki Begiristain, appeared relaxed about the prospect of the winger facing his parent club.

He said: “Yes, why not? Our target is to make him a better player and play in games such as this so we will see.”

Begiristain, also a former Barcelona executive, denied the draw was the worst possible for his side.

He added: “It is not a nightmare because we are in a wonderful competition.

“We are really happy but it will be very tough. We were in the semi-final last season and we want to be there again. It is an amazing competition, an amazing group.”

City played the Catalans in the last 16 in 2014 and 2015, losing the ties on both occasions.

The games will also mean a quick reunion for goalkeeper Claudio Bravo with his old club, following his move to City yesterday.

City also played Monchengladbach in the group stage last year, en route to the last four.

Spanish side Real Madrid beat neighbours Atletico on penalties in last season’s final, becoming European champions for a record 11th time.

Zinedine Zidane’s side meet German outfit Borussia Dortmund, Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon and Legia Warsaw of Poland while Atletico were pitted against Bayern Munich, PSV Eindhoven and Rostov.

No team have defended the Champions League since its inception in 1992.

Belfast Telegraph

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