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Celtic v FC Astana: Toure can give crucial edge, says Brendan Rodgers

By Ronnie Esplin

Kolo Toure is set to make his Celtic debut against FC Astana in the Champions League tonight with manager Brendan Rodgers insisting a start for the 35-year-old would not be a gamble.

The former Arsenal and Manchester City defender teamed up with his former Liverpool boss last week but sat out the first leg of the third qualifying round in Kazakhstan, which ended 1-1, and Saturday's 3-1 International Champions Cup defeat to Barcelona in Dublin as he worked on his fitness.

Ulsterman Rodgers is short on defenders, with Erik Sviatchenko still out with a groin strain and Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic both working their way back following respective hamstring and knee injuries.

That leaves Rodgers, who gave a European debut to 20-year-old Eoghan O'Connell alongside the much-criticised Efe Ambrose in the Astana Arena, still limited in central defensive options for the crunch game at Parkhead.

"Kolo will be in the squad," said the Hoops boss, who revealed Nir Bitton has had a scan on the ankle injury he picked up at the Aviva Stadium which will almost certainly rule him out while fellow midfielder Stefan Johansen is back in the squad after missing the last two matches after his wife had a baby.

As for Toure, Rodgers said: "He has trained well since he has come in.

"We left him behind at the weekend to continue with that and I am confident that he can play a part in the game.

"If I feel he can start in the game and he is ready, I will have no problem playing him.

"I wouldn't think it would be a gamble, we are just assessing fitness at the moment.

"He is super-experienced. Kolo has had a great impact already in the short period of time he has had here but you also have to try to apply a little bit of common sense to it.

"I have no doubt that his experience somewhere in the game can be required, if I felt that he wasn't ready to start."

On Bitton's injury, Rodgers said: "He will struggle to make the game. He had quite a bad knock on his medial ligament so he will struggle for fitness."

Celtic have failed to qualify for the Champions League for the last two seasons and rectifying that situation was Rodgers' main remit on taking over from Ronny Deila in May.

The Carnlough native insists keeping a clear head amid the "hysteria" which can surround Champions League qualifiers is key to achieving that goal.

"To qualify into the Champions League is a goal that we set at the start of the season but you have to stay calm," said the former Watford, Reading and Swansea manager.

"There will be a lot of hysteria around but as manager and coaches and players you have to have that calmness to allow you to fulfil the abilities you have.

"We have put in a lot of work and what gives us the confidence is that we are working relentlessly with the team, analysing the opponents.

"We understand the magnitude of it."

After a "resilient" performance in Astana last week where the Hoops fought back from a goal down to level through striker Leigh Griffiths, the Celtic manager is looking for his side to finish the job off in front of what promises to be a big crowd.

"We are really looking forward to playing at home," Rodgers said.

"The crowd have been brilliant for us and the players have responded to that.

"We showed a real doggedness last week to keep going and maybe by the end of the game we were unfortunate not to have won it.

"But we aim to show that it is our pitch, we have to own the pitch and we need to get the result and that will be the idea for this home game and all of our home games this season," Rodgers added.

  • Celtic v Astana: Champions League, Agg 1-1: Celtic Park, Tonight, 7.45pm

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