Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 25 May 2016

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Maribor chief: redemption is name of the game

By Ronnie Esplin

Published 20/08/2014

Determination: Anthony Stokes
Determination: Anthony Stokes

Maribor sporting director Zlatko Zahovic believes tonight's game with Celtic will be an epic duel between two sides who have a lot to prove after early-season setbacks.

The Glasgow giants, of course, only reached the Champions League play-off stage because Legia Warsaw fielded a suspended player and were thrown out.

Maribor, meanwhile, lost their first game of the season on Saturday, well beaten 3-1 by Celje.

"I think we are very, very lucky that defeat happened to us in the national championship and not in the qualification for the Champions League," said Zahovic.

Zahovic insisted there was no cause to "press alarm bells" after a seven-game unbeaten run, which included both legs of their Champions League qualifying win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv, had come to an end.

"Defeats happen and now we must maintain calm heads and understand that they too can have a bad day," he said.

"Now it is important that we thoroughly prepare for an epic duel against Celtic.

"We have to respect that our opponents are regular participants in the Champions League, two years ago defeated Barcelona and are ranked in this competition.

"If we go into the match with a point of view that is humble and modest, I am very optimistic."

Maribor coach Ante Simundza promised that his side would learn from their domestic defeat.

"Celtic are a big club with a rich tradition and are considered the favourites," he said.

"Our mission is that we are willing to do our utmost to find weaknesses in our opponents."

Anthony Stokes, meanwhile, is looking for Celtic to assert themselves in the game, but believes the return of European nights to Parkhead could be the key to the tie.

The Scottish champions had to play their previous two qualifying home games this season at Murrayfield in Edinburgh as Celtic Park was out of commission due to its use in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Ronny Deila's side are now back in their own ground where they hammered Dundee United 6-1 in the Scottish Premiership on Saturday and Stokes anticipates another big Euro night when the Slovenians arrive for the second leg next week.

The Hoops striker said: "I think it could make a massive difference but we want to at least come away with a draw (tonight) although we will be going out to win the game because the mentality at this club is that you try to win every game.

"But I think the second-leg favours us and particularly coming back to Celtic Park. It always has a massive influence.

"We have played some of the biggest teams in Europe but we have managed to win games against teams that people thought were going to blow us off the park.

"So it is massive for us. The atmosphere the fans create is something special but the most important thing (tonight) is try to get a result."

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