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Arzani confident Celtic will mix it with Europe's elite despite being given tough draw


Forging ahead: Celtic’s on-loan winger Daniel Arzani
Forging ahead: Celtic’s on-loan winger Daniel Arzani

By Ronnie Esplin

Daniel Arzani has backed Celtic to advance to the Champions League group stages and join the cream of Europe.

The Hoops will again have to do it the hard way after being handed a tough draw against Bosnian side Sarajevo in their opening qualifying tie.

Neil Lennon's side will take on a side managed by former Hearts striker Husref Musemic as they seek to reach the group stages for a third time in four years.

On-loan Manchester City winger Arzani believes it is harsh that the Scottish champions still have to take such an arduous route to the group stages given their recent achievements.

But he insists the Parkhead outfit have the quality to join the rest of the continent's elite clubs in the money-spinning group phase.

Giving his reaction to the draw, the Australian - who hopes to make an impact this term after his first season in Scotland was wrecked by a serious knee injury - said: "It's really difficult. The biggest mistake we could make is underestimating a team like this. You have to take it very seriously, it's the Champions League after all.

"We just have to do our research and play as well as we can. I think it's a little bit unfair (that Celtic have to go through so many qualifiers) but I also think that the cream always rises to the top.

"We have the quality to go through all the way and I think we are going to.

"It's unfair but, at the end of the day, we just need to stick our heads down and get the job done."

Lennon's treble-treble winners are due to play at home in the first leg on July 9-10, although fixtures are subject to change.

The Hoops missed out on a place in last year's group stage after being dumped out at the third qualifying round by Greek champions AEK Athens, although the team did progress to the last 32 of the Europa League under former boss Brendan Rodgers. Uefa have handed Celtic the added safety net of a bye to the third qualifying round of the Europa League should they fail to get past Sarajevo.

Airtricity Premier Division champions Dundalk have been drawn to face Latvians Riga and The New Saints of Wales will face the winners of the preliminary round.

Rangers could face a daunting trip to Kosovo as they begin their Europa League quest.

Steven Gerrard's side, who last night announced the signing of Liverpool winger Sheyi Ojo on a season-long loan, have landed either FC Prishtina of Kosovo or St Joseph's of Gibraltar in the first qualifying round.

The teams meet over two legs on June 27 and July 4 to decide who will take on the Light Blues.

The Glasgow giants are provisionally scheduled to travel away from home for the first leg on July 11, with the Ibrox return pencilled in for July 18.

If Prishtina make it through, it will mean a 3,500-mile trip to the Balkan state for starters as Gerrard looks to repeat last season's feat, where his team made the group stages.

However, Kilmarnock will be making a mere 500-mile journey to Wales and back for their first European clash since 2002 after being paired with Connah's Quay Nomads.

Aberdeen will kick off their fifth straight Europa League campaign at Pittodrie after being drawn against Finnish outfit RoPS Rovaniemi.

Belfast Telegraph


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