Wednesday 7 December 2016

Brendan Rodgers' strong praise of Paul O'Connell's cousin bodes well for Irish football

Ronnie Esplin

Published 26/07/2016 | 17:01

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 23: Eoghan O'Connell of Celtic celebrates after he scores during the Pre Season Friendly match between Celtic and Leicester City at Celtic Park Stadium on July 23, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 23: Eoghan O'Connell of Celtic celebrates after he scores during the Pre Season Friendly match between Celtic and Leicester City at Celtic Park Stadium on July 23, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Brendan Rodgers has played down his central defensive problems ahead of Celtic's Champions League third round qualifier against Astana on Wednesday night.

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Danish defender Erik Sviatchenko did not travel to Kazakhstan after picking up a groin injury last Friday, while 18-year-old Kristoffer Ajer is out with a hand issue.

The Hoops boss was already without long-term injured centre-backs Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata while new signing Kolo Toure remained in Glasgow to catch up on his fitness.

The often-criticised Efe Ambrose and 20-year-old Eoghan O'Connell, who scored against Leicester in the International Champions Cup at the weekend but who has yet to play in Europe, are the only two centre-backs available although Sweden full-back Mikael Lustig can also play there.

Despite the shortage at the centre of his backline, Rodgers remained calm.

"He's (Sviatchenko) been working well but unfortunately before the game at the weekend he picked up a groin strain which makes him unavailable," said the former Liverpool manager, who revealed midfielder Stefan Johansen did not travel due to personal reasons.

"We will assess that over the course of the next week and see if he can be available for the second leg.

"In these games it is always going to be the case of doing the very best that we could with the limited time and numbers that we have.

"But I am confident that whatever team we put out will do their very best, like we did in Saturday's game against Leicester.

"Both players (Ambrose and O'Connell) have worked very well, In particular, young Eoghan, I have been really impressed with him over the course of the pre-season.

"He is a good size, first and foremost he wants to defend and in the short period I have worked with him, he is good in the air.

"He has been in and around the first team for a few years now.

"He was up against tough opponents at the weekend, even though Leicester have only been back a few weeks, they come back already fit and I thought Eoghan coped with that very well, the speed of their team.

"He has a brain for football, he understands the game very well for a young player and importantly he plays the game well.

"For a young player, if they show those qualities and professionalism I never have any fears of putting him in.

"In terms of Efe, everyone has seen, and people have seen a lot more than I have of him, he knows that if he can cut out mistakes or errors that he makes in games, then you have a very good player because physically he is very strong, very fast, good in the air.

"It's about decision-making and simplifying the game, if he can do that he can be an asset.

"I have no qualms about who I put into the game. The strength of us will always be the team rather than the individual and the team that we put out will hopefully get the result."

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