Malaga, Celtic have group stage in sights
PARIS - Agence France-PresseCeltic will rely on an impressive European home record as it seeks to finish the job against Helsingborgs tonight and reach the Champions League group stage for the first time in four years.
Neil Lennon’s side is 2-0 up from last week’s first leg in Sweden, with goals from Kris Commons and Giorgos Samaras leaving the Scottish champion in the driving seat.
Celtic’s recent record in continental competitions has been poor, hence its absence from the Champions League proper since 2008-09, when the team bowed out with just five points from six group games.
Northern Irish manager Lennon urges his boys to finish the job.
“The tie is still to be won,” he said. “The expectation level has gone through the roof and everyone has us in the Champions League already. I don’t. We still have to play a really tough game. But I’ve had a good feeling from the players. They really are motivated.”
Meanwhile, Malaga is chasing qualification for the group stage for the first time in its history.
The Spanish club beat Panathinaikos of Greece 2-0 last week and is now on the brink of joining Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia in the group phase.
“We can’t take our place in the group stages for granted,” coach Manuel Pellegrini said. “But it was a mature performance from the team in the first leg despite our inexperience in the Champions League.”
If Malaga can get through, Spain will join England with four representatives in the group stage, but the prospect of Germany having a quartet of clubs now appears slim.
Mönchengladbach coach Lucien Favre admitted that the Foals have their work cut out if they are to overturn a 3-1 deficit when they visit Dynamo Kiev. Elsewhere, Lille will have to overturn a 1-0 deficit when it hosts FC Copenhagen, while Udinese is aiming to finish the job at home to Braga after drawing 1-1 in Portugal.
Belgian Anderlecht is 2-1 down coming into its return against AEL Limassol of Greek Cyprus.