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Hapoel Be'er Sheva v Celtic: Place among Europe's elite is within Hoops' grasp says Brendan Rodgers

By Ronnie Esplin

Brendan Rodgers believes a Champions League place is Celtic's to lose ahead of the second leg of their play-off against Hapoel Be'er Sheva tonight.

The Hoops are 5-2 up from the first game at Parkhead and favourites to reach the group stages for the first time in three seasons.

"As a coach I only know too well if you don't have maximum concentration in the game that you can concede goals," said the Ulsterman. "We always have to be aware of that. We respect Be'er Sheva and their qualities and they will be doing everything they possibly can to qualify.

"But the prize is with us and it is only for us to lose and we don't intend to lose it very easily.

"I would be delighted of course to qualify. It has been our No.1 objective from the day we started.

"To lead Celtic into the Champions League would be a huge honour and great privilege.

"We have put in an awful lot of work, we have two hands on the prize and a tight grip on it and we just need to make sure we maintain that grip. But we still know there is a bit of work to do."

Rodgers believes Celtic could take advantage of any gaps the home side may leave as they chase goals.

"It is a difficult one for them," said the Carnlough man. "They are playing at their home stadium and they know they have to attack.

"The problem could actually be the pace we have in the team. There are big spaces if you leave yourself open and this is a team that can score goals.

"We are averaging nearly three goals a game so offensively we are very strong but we know it will be a tough game and their manager (Barak Bakhar) has done a fantastic job here."

The former Liverpool boss claimed qualifying for the Champions League would have a positive knock-on effect not only for the Parkhead club but the rest of Scottish football.

He said: "When you are talking about the great clubs of Europe you are talking about clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan.

"You go through various countries and Celtic is synonymous with all of those clubs.

"To be back in among that echelon of team would be a great honour for Celtic, great for the supporters and allows our players to compete with the very best in European football.

"For Scotland as a whole, I think it is important.

"The game here has maybe been knocked for a few years nationally but this would be a great tonic for the entire nation and it would give everyone the opportunity to see predominantly Scottish players play against some of the world's best."

Meanwhile, Celtic supporters have pledged to match any fine that Uefa imposes on the Scottish champions after a contingent of the crowd flew Palestinian flags during the first leg clash against Israeli side Hapoel Be'er Sheva at Parkhead last Wednesday.

Supporters have taken to Twitter, using the #matchthefineforpalestine hashtag, to protest the decision and plan to donate the funds raised to charities linked with the conflict.

Belfast Telegraph


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