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Friday 1 August 2014

Deila relishing European qualifiers

Published 23/06/2014|18:52

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Ronny Deila's side will take on KR Reykjavik in a Champions League qualifier

Ronny Deila is excited about the prospect of going to both Iceland and Murrayfield in his first competitive assignment as Celtic manager.

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Celtic face Icelandic champions KR Reykjavik in the first of three Champions League qualifiers they need to overcome in order to reach the group stages.

With Celtic Park out of commission because of the Commonwealth Games, Deila is set for a Murrayfield debut after Celtic were picked out first in the draw for the second qualifying round, although the Hoops have been trying to persuade their opponents to switch the fixtures.

KR lost 9-1 to HJK Helsinki in their previous appearance in the competition two years ago before the Finns lost 4-1 to Celtic in the next round, but Deila is taking nothing for granted.

The Norwegian said: "It could be worse and it could be better but I think it's an okay draw.

"Reykjavik are a good team and Icelandic football has improved a lot in the last few years.

"We have to treat them with respect but we are favourites and we are going to do everything to win the game.

"I have never been to Iceland so it's going to be fun to go up there. I'm excited and I'm really looking forward to the game."

Deila will be denied a Celtic Park debut with the venue being used for the Games' opening ceremony, but he is determined to view the outing to Edinburgh as a bonus rather than an inconvenience.

"I think that's exciting," he said. "It's exciting for the fans, they are going to have something different. It's a big stadium and the pitch is going to be good.

"We love to play at Celtic Park but the circumstances are like this so we take it as a positive to show ourselves in the new stadium."

KR sit fourth in their league after nine games and Deila admits the fact they will be midway through their season when they meet on July 15-16 will be an advantage for his opponents.

The 38-year-old said: "Of course it will but we have a very good team and it's only been one month. A lot of the players had an international at the beginning of June. We have four matches before the qualification so we are going to be as fit as possible."

Celtic are set to come up against a former player in striker Kjartan Finnbogason, who joined the Glasgow club from KR in 2004 aged 17 but failed to make a first-team breakthrough.

The forward moved to Norway and scored one goal in eight appearances during a loan spell at Falkirk in 2009 before eventually returning to KR, where he is their top European goalscorer with eight strikes.

Celtic also have good information on their opponents from January signing Holmbert Fridjonsson, who came up against KR for old club Fram.

Fridjonsson told the official Celtic website: "They've been the best team in Iceland for a few years now. They've won the league twice in the last four years and they are very hard working.

"They are one of the bigger teams in Iceland and are known as an attacking team but I don't think they will play attacking football against us. I would be surprised if they did."

The 21-year-old added: "I know most of the players quite well, particularly Emil Atlason who has been great with the Iceland Under-21s and is one of our top goalscorers.

"They also have Kjartan Finnbogason who used to play for Celtic and he's been playing well back in Iceland. He's had a bit of a bad time with injuries lately but he has scored a lot of goals. I suppose you could say he is their star player.

"I think their stadium only holds about 3,000, so when they play over here it will be an experience for them. I think the atmosphere will be incredible for them.

"They played Liverpool many years ago but I think this could be one of the biggest games of the club's history."

KR coach Runar Kristinsson is looking to savour the occasion.

"We will try to enjoy these games and of course we aim to get good results," he told the official UEFA website. "Either you want a team you could beat, or a team like Real Madrid. Celtic will be an adventure for everyone but this will be very difficult."

Elsewhere in the draw, Northern Irish champions Cliftonville were picked out first against Hungarian side Debrecen.

Welsh side The New Saints face Slovan Bratislava and Airtricity League of Ireland champions St Patrick's Athletic will take on Legia Warsaw.

Among the six teams playing in the first qualifying round are Lincoln Red Imps of UEFA newcomers Gibraltar. They face HB Torshavn of the Faroe Islands with the winners then taking on Partizan Belgrade.

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