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Celtic's Euro party will be a joy to behold: Rodgers


By Ronnie Esplin

Brendan Rodgers believes Celtic's Champions League opponents will be in for an experience of a lifetime when they visit Parkhead this season. The Hoops were drawn in Group B along with German giants Bayern Munich, free-spending French side Paris St Germain and Belgian champions Anderlecht in Thursday's draw in Monaco.

The Hoops manager described the group as "absolutely amazing" and claimed Celtic Park will prove again to be both inspiring and intimidating.

Ahead of the visit of St Johnstone in the Ladbrokes Premiership today, the Ulsterman said: "Teams will look at it and know it will be a tough game and a tough evening.

"I know it myself as a manager. There are various grounds and various teams that can make it very intimidating for your players, and that in turn can make it very difficult.

"You have seen throughout the history, guys like (Andres) Iniesta, (Lionel) Messi, Paolo Maldini and other guys who have come here and talk about it as a one-off experience.

"Paolo Maldini played until he was 40, talking about at least once in your lifetime as a professional player, you have to have sampled Celtic Park's atmosphere because there is no other atmosphere like it.

"That tells you everything you need to know from a players' perspective," he said.

"It will be a place players want to come, but the support and noise is a great factor for us.

"From a personal perspective it is absolutely amazing to pit our wits against these top teams," he added.

On an upbeat day at Celtic's Lennoxtown training complex, Rodgers' only gripe was about the criticism of Nir Bitton.

The Israeli midfielder, in the absence of injured defenders Dedryck Boyata, Erik Sviatchenko and Jozo Simunovic, was again asked to play centre-half in the 4-3 defeat in Astana on Tuesday night where the Hoops went through 8-4 on aggregate.

The former Swansea and Liverpool boss said: "The criticism that Nir Bitton has received, that I have been made aware of, is absolutely incredible.

"He is a central midfield player. I felt it was pretty clear that we had three centre-halves unavailable, two of whom have been unavailable for most of the qualification campaign.

"This is a guy who, after the Kilmarnock game at the weekend, his foot was in a boot, he couldn't walk for two days and he took his boot off before the last training session in Astana.

"Nine out of 10 players wouldn't have played that night but he put himself out there for the team and the cause and I have nothing but pure admiration for what he did and I know all the other players have because he could have pulled himself out.

"I have seen one report saying it was a £30million risk, if we didn't have Nir Bitton we might not have been in the Champions League."

Rodgers confirmed that 20-year-old defender Rivaldo Coetzee will undergo a medical this weekend to conclude his move from South African side Ajax Cape Town.

He said: "He will hopefully come through his medical over the weekend which should be great, so he should be a very good addition to our squad.

"He is with the South Africa national team and we will look to see him after that."

Rodgers had nothing to add to the prospect of winger Patrick Roberts returning from Manchester City for a second loan spell, but revealed Boyata returned to training after being out with a knee injury since pre-season although it will take a "few weeks" for him to regain full fitness.

St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright, meanwhile, has refused to get carried away with his side's start to the season after maintaining their winning run with a 1-0 victory over Partick Thistle.

Michael O'Halloran's fourth goal of the season ensured Wright's side remain level with Celtic at the top of the table with maximum points from their first three games ahead of today's fixture at Celtic Park.

The midfielder has hit the ground running after rejoining the club on loan from Rangers and has been pivotal to his side's early-season form, but while Wright was delighted to keep their run going, he played down its significance.

He said: "It's a fantastic start, but it is only a start.

"I look at it like this; it's one point off 10 points where I want to be as quickly as possible, and if you'd had said at the start of the season that you'll go into the international break with a top-of-the-table clash with Celtic, I'd have definitely taken that," he added.

"We go there with great confidence and as the last domestic team to beat them.

"Who knows? Maybe we can cause a surprise and a major upset," he concluded.


St Johnstone

Ladbrokes Premiership:

Celtic Park, Today, 3.00 pm

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