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Celtic star Johansen relishing taking on rivals Rangers

By Ronnie Esplin

Stefan Johansen insists Chris Sutton was "completely wrong" to suggest Celtic could win their Scottish League Cup semi-final clash with Rangers tomorrow wearing blindfolds.

Hampden Park and indeed Scotland is bracing itself for the first meeting between the two sides in almost three years, since the Ibrox club re-emerged in the bottom tier of Scottish football following their descent into administration and liquidation.

While Ronny Deila's team sit top of the Scottish Premiership and on course for a domestic treble - and also looking forward to a Europa League last-32 clash with Inter Milan next month - the Light Blues are second in the Championship with promotion far from guaranteed.

The match also takes place against an Ibrox backdrop of continuing boardroom strife, financial problems and with caretaker manager Kenny McDowall having signalled his intention to leave at the end of the season.

However, when asked about the scathing comments from former Hoops striker Sutton, the 24-year-old Norwegian replied: "I think that's completely wrong.

"It's a cup game and they will be up for it. We haven't met in three years. It's going to be a massive game.

"We need to make sure we are ready. I don't know if we are the favourites, we don't think that way.

"It's a tough game, Celtic versus Rangers is always a tough game. It is a semi-final and the prize is a final and the chance to win a trophy.

"You have to go there and play your game. And if we go out there and play the way we can then we have a good chance of winning."

Johansen is excited about appearing in his first Old Firm game and can sense the excitement mounting.

The former Stromsgodset player said: "I think it is going to be fun. We played in the Champions League (qualifiers) and the crowd was amazing but I heard the Rangers versus Celtic games are massive so I am looking forward to taking part in that.

"You want to play in big games and this is a big game.

"You can feel in the city that it's a big game. It's getting a lot of attention. You hear it wherever you go, even when you go to get your groceries.

"It's a big game even in Norway, you can see all the Norwegian journalists are here as well. It's one of the biggest games in the world.

"I've watched the game when I was in Norway and Thomas Rogne played for Celtic. We are just trying to prepare as best we can."

Johansen does not know any of the Rangers players but insists he and his Hoops team-mates will be up to speed before kick-off.

"I like to focus on my team and what we are going to do," he said.

"Of course, we will watch them on video and they have some strengths but we have to focus on ourselves.

"I respect the opponents we have in the league and people can speak about if Rangers should be there or not.

"But I signed for Celtic to win trophies and whether Rangers are there or not, I just care about the next game and that is Rangers."

Meanwhile, former Rangers defender Arthur Numan insists he never faced Celtic thinking defeat was inevitable - and sees no reason why the current crop should.

The Light Blues side will bear little resemblance to the star-studded side Numan was part of.

The Dutchman signed for Rangers at a time when money was no object and big-name figures like Ronald de Boer, Andrei Kanchelskis and Stefan Klos were all lured to Govan.

It was that period of extravagance, however, which ultimately led Gers onto the path to self-destruction.

Even after dusting themselves down from their liquidation disaster, the club continues to toil.

But Numan - who won three league titles during a five-year Ibrox stint - insists McDowall's team are not total no-hopers.

He said: "I never went into an Old Firm game, even when Martin O'Neill's side were on top, believing we couldn't get a result because the Old Firm is a one-off, a special game.

"We were also in the position where we were dominating for a spell but then Celtic beat us. It is always hard to predict and that makes the Old Firm always exciting.

"For most of the players it will be the first time they have played against Celtic. It will be a fantastic experience.

"But they will have to believe in themselves. The pressure is all on Celtic because everybody expects them to beat this Rangers team.

"But we saw in England last weekend top teams losing against second and third division teams in the FA Cup.

"The Rangers players have to think the same. It is Hampden Park, 50,000 people - a fantastic opportunity. They need to give everything. If they do that then hopefully they can compete with Celtic."

Belfast Telegraph


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