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European Masterclass

Celtic 5 - 0 FC Astana

"Celtic have gone through Astana like a blowtorch through butter tonight," Liam McLeod, BBC Radio Scotland

It is nights like last night that make the 'Paradise' nickname feel so apt. Brendan Rodgers and his Celtic side provided the fans with a night or sheer ecstacy, as they demolished Kazakh side Astana 5-0.

Astana are familiar opponents for the Scottish champions, having played them en route to Champions League qualification last summer. Last season's two legged tie was a tight affair, with a draw in Kazakhstan followed by a late 2-1 win at Celtic Park in the return leg.

With injuries in defence, there was much discussion as to who should start beside Simunovic, with Rodgers opting for Nir Bitton. The Israeli is not a natural centre back and had looked shaky in the recent Glasgow derby, when he looked like he had given away a late penalty against Partick Thistle. Rodgers showed faith in the midfielder, which was repaid with a self-assured performance at the back.​

The game was tense in the early stages, with both teams looking for an opening. Early chances fell to Sinclair and Griffiths but both put their attempts wide of the post. Astana passed the ball well but found themselves frustrated trying to breakdown a well drilled Celtic defence.

It wasn't until the 32nd minute that the deadlock was broken. Tom Rogic wove his way through the Astana defence and chipped the ball passed the goalkeeper. The ball looked to be heading wide but the Astana defender poked it in with his foot instead of clearing it, sending the Celtic fans wild.

Just before half time, Sinclair took advantage of a poor back pass from the Astana midfield, surging forward and cooly slotting the ball past the goalkeeper, to double Celtic's lead. Despite some nervous moments, Celtic went in at half...​
Hearts Crushed by rampant Celts

Celtic - 4 (Griffiths 29, 63, Sinclair 51, McGregor 73)
Hearts - 1 (Goncalves 84)

Scottish Premiership,
Celtic Park, Glasgow
Saturday 5th August

There was no European hangover following on from Celtic’s impressive win in Norway during the week as last season’s invincibles put a disjointed Hearts side to the sword. The Edinburgh side parted company with manager Ian Cathro in the previous week and it was up to interim manager Jon Daly to pick up the pieces. It was never going to be an easy task for the Dubliner who was coming up against a side who were clearly buoyed by their European exploits and would be celebrating last season’s glorious domestic campaign with the raising of the Championship flag by captain Scott Brown, on the beginning of his tenth season at the club.

To be fair to Hearts, they did make life difficult for the Scottish champions in the opening half hour, but there was always a sense that it was only a matter of time before the opening goal would arrive for the home side. The goal did arrive on 28 minutes and it was no great surprise who the finisher was. Leigh Griffiths, who rounded off a superb season with the hoops last season with a similarly spectacular display at Hampden for his country in June against England with two stunning free kicks, opened the scoring at Celtic Park after he had been found by a wonderful through ball from centre half Nir Bitton. Celtic’s number 9 seemed to have taken a touch too many, but a brilliant piece of improvisation allowed the hitman to create the opportunity of hitting the ball into an empty net with his right foot. It was a goal that the Bhoys deserved and one which signalled the beginning of a long afternoon for the Jambos.

A familiar sight for Hearts...
Bhoys One Step Closer to Promised Land

Rosenborg – 0 (0)

Celtic – 1 (1) (Forrest 69)

UEFA Champions League Third Round Qualifer, Second Leg

Lerkendal Stadion, Trondheim

Wednesday 2nd August


Celtic moved a step closer to the promised land of Champions League football with what was a professional and encouraging performance from Brendan Rodgers’ men. The tie was finely in the balance after the Norwegians had frustrated last seasons invincibles at Parkhead last week and managed to come away with a scoreless draw. Over the course of the two games they proved to be a rigid side, concentrating mainly on their defensive duties and smothering Celtic’s attacks, but seemed to offer little of note going forward and in truth, Celtic were probably more comfortable than the score line suggested.

Hoops fans were left to sweat over the fitness of key striker Leigh Griffiths over the course of the week but the Scot was declared fit for the game and was named on the bench. James Forrest was faced with the task of leading the line after his impressive display in the 5-0 thrashing of Sunderland at the Stadium of Light at the weekend.

Celtic’s injury woes at the back continued when Erik Sviatchenko went off with what appeared to be a knock to his knee midway through the first half. Nir Bitton replaced him and despite being out of position, looked comfortable throughout and Celtic’s level of dominance failed to wither. The Israeli was calm and composed in the centre of the defence and proved to be effective in his distribution of the ball.

Only three minutes after the introduction of Bitton, the crucial sought after away goal was prevented only by a fantastic finger-tip stop by Hansen in the Rosenborg goal. Tierney had been causing the Norwegians a problem...

Celtic have signed 21 year old Frenchman, Jules Olivier Ntcham, from Manchester City. He signs a four year deal and has already stated his ambition to do well for the club.
"It's a nice feeling to be here at Celtic and I want to win everything at Celtic as I have never won a trophy before," he said in a statement.

"I'm most looking forward to the derby and playing in the Champions League. I remember them beating Barcelona five years ago in the group stages. Not every club gets to play in this competition so I'm happy to have the chance to play there with Celtic.

"Celtic is a fresh challenge for me. While Genoa are a good team, I knew they wouldn't win Serie A as they were not a top team like Juventus, but I know Celtic are a big team in Scotland."

He has spent the previous two years on loan at Genoa in Serie A, appearing 41 times. In search of further first team football, the young Frenchman will look to force his way into Brendan Rodgers' treble winning invincibles. It won't be an easy task, but his experience in Italy can only help him as he aims to stake his claim for a starting spot.

Expect Fireworks


Celtic drawn away from home in the first leg of a Champions League qualifier, versus Linfield or SP La Fiorita

Celtic will play the winners of the Linfield v SP La Fiorita tie, in their first Champions League qualifying game. Celtic will know their confirmed opponents by the end of July 5th at the latest, with the first qualifying ties to be played on 27th & 28th June and 4th & 5th July.

As Celtic's ball was drawn second, the first leg will be away from home, with the destination being Belfast or San Marino.

Linfield will be favourites for the first round qualifier, which has the potential to set up a hotly anticipated match in Belfast. With the first tie being scheduled to be played on 11th or 12th July, it coincides with the Orange marching season in Northern Ireland. In the event of this match taking place, expect an incredibly unpleasant and potentially dangerous atmosphere for Celtic fans. Hopefully, it will be well policed and without incident. However, the more cynical amongst us would probably agree that is unlikely.

Having considered that, the most important thing for Celtic is progress towards qualifying for the Champions League group stages, for the second season in a row. Qualification at the first attempt was a great achievement for Brendan Rodgers and his side. The experience gained in those tough Champions League group stages, in a so...