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Celtic must step up game to zap Zenit, warns Brown

By Ronnie Esplin

Skipper Scott Brown revealed himself to be cautiously optimistic ahead of Celtic's Europa League second-leg clash against Zenit St Petersburg tonight.

Brendan Rodgers' Celts have a 1-0 lead from the first encounter at Parkhead where the Russian side looked rusty as they played their first competitive match in two months due to the winter beak in their country.

However, on the subject of getting into the last 16 of the competition, Brown said: "It would be fantastic, but we need to remember that Zenit are a fantastic team.

"They showed top quality against us away from home, but we played really well as well. We're going to need to up our game here because we know it's going to be difficult, but we believe we can do it.

"Over the last two seasons in Europe we've been developing. We've been playing different formations and styles against top quality teams.

"For us now we just want to push on as much as we can. We have a fantastic manager, great coaches and top-quality players. We're thriving on the experience of playing in the Champions League and last 32 of the Europa League."

Manager Rodgers believes the Hoops will have to reach the heights of their first-leg performance if they are to progress.

They are aiming to reach the last 16 for the first time since 2003/04 when Rodgers' fellow Ulsterman Martin O'Neill's side lost to Villarreal in the quarter-finals.

Speaking at Celtic's hotel in St Petersburg yesterday, Rodgers said: "It would be a huge achievement for us.

"Obviously the competition itself and European football is notoriously very difficult now for ourselves, but I think we showed in the first leg how well we played.

"We played a perfect game really in how the players defended and attacked.

"Of course, we would have liked to have had one or two more goals but the concentration and our quality in our game was at a very high level.

"We know that over the course of the two legs we need to replicate that but the players are ready for that.

"They showed last week they can play. If they play with that aggression, quality and intensity, then it gives us a great opportunity.

"Our belief has always been there. At the beginning of the first leg, I was being a realist as everyone would probably expect Zenit to go through, but what we showed in the first leg is that we're going to make it very difficult for them and going to make it really competitive.

"They will be expected to go through over the two legs, so my mindset hasn't changed.

"But what we showed in the first leg is that we can match any team."

The former Liverpool manager expects Zenit to be more attacking in front of their own fans, and with that in mind, he is looking for his side to be clever in how they might take advantage of it.

Rodgers said: "Zenit are predominantly a counter-attacking team and they have scored a lot of goals in their season so far, and they have players of quality.

"But they may want to bring a bit more initiative to the game.

"For us, there are still areas where we can be better.

"As always, we like to play with aggression and with that educated pressure on the ball," added Rodgers.

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