Celtic contest Qarabag with Champions League play-offs at stake


Ronny Deila’s Scottish Premiership champions Celtic will face a tough trip to Azerbaijan to contest Champions League third qualifying round opponents Qarabag in a second leg clash, with a play-off place up for grabs.

The Hoops are used to being a dominant force domestically, having secured both the Premiership and League Cup trophies last term, but Deila will want his Glasgow giants to bring back those enthralling European nights to Parkhead.

His Bhoys looked to be edging further away from that target in the first leg until Dedryck Boyata’s last-gasp header earned a 1-0 home win, and are 5/1 with Coral to triumph with both teams getting on the scoresheet in 90 minutes.

With a narrow one-goal lead to defend, Celtic will have a do-or-die match-up to deal with in tough conditions on their travels to the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium, and shot-stopper Craig Gordon believes they need to avoid becoming too cautious.

“Going over there is going to be very difficult. We are going to have to play a smart game defensively to come through it,” stated the Scottish goalkeeper.

“It’s a very slender advantage and we still have to approach the tie looking to score a goal.

“We look to do that regardless of who we’re playing and what game we’re playing in. They have shown that they could have the quality to score against us, so we will be looking to carry a threat at the other end and cause them some problems as well.”

There were murmurs that Celtic’s visit to face Qarabag may have been under threat due to the pitch reportedly becoming uneven because of extreme weather conditions, but the game will continue and the hosts are 9/5 to secure victory.

The visiting Scots do come into the encounter on the back of a successful opening game in the defence of their domestic crown, having easily dispatched Ross County with goals form Leigh Griffiths and Stefan Johansen.

Scotland international forward Griffiths is 4/1 to fire his side to victory again in this Champions League meeting, after Deila claimed his striker should recover from a knock sustained in that league clash.

Midfielder Nir Bitton is also expected to return, after missing the season opener with an ankle problem, while new striker Nadir Ciftci could feature and is 5/1 to strike the game’s last goal.

Qarabag’s key danger could be the interestingly-named Reynaldo, who will lead the line, and he is 13/2 to open proceedings for the hosts.

Celtic disastrously missed out on a spot in the prestigious group stages last term, with a loss to Maribor summoning them to the Europa League instead but, with a lead to hold on to, the battling Bhoys should seal a hopeful play-off position.

Betting tip: Griffiths to score and Celtic to win in 90 minutes @ 4/1

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