Saturday 27 May 2017

Dembele puts Hoops in good heart for Euro showdown

The issue was settled by a late penalty by Moussa Dembélé. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
The issue was settled by a late penalty by Moussa Dembélé. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Roddy Forsyth

Milestone weeks have become almost commonplace for Celtic lately but two wins in the next six days would represent another substantial stride for Brendan Rodgers and his players.

A Champions League victory at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Wednesday would put the Hoops in good shape for European football after Christmas and, if they beat Rangers in the semi-final of the Scottish League Cup at Hampden next Sunday, they will contest the first trophy of the season next month.

Rodgers acknowledged that Saturday's 2-0 league win against Motherwell had been a low-key affair but cited the disruptive effect of the international break as an element.

In addition, three of the side that started in the 3-3 draw with Manchester City on September 28 - Mikael Lustig, Nir Bitton and Tom Rogic - were absent, and Kolo Touré came on for only a few minutes towards the end.

Nevertheless, as Rodgers observed, there was work to be done and Celtic duly took care of business against a Motherwell team that included two teenage debutants in Jack McMillan and Ross McLean.

The almost-obligatory goal from Scott Sinclair separated the contenders until the issue was settled by a late penalty by Moussa Dembélé, who had been fouled by Craig Samson.

Impress

For the likes of Liam Henderson and Jozo Simunovic, who made their third and fifth appearances of the season respectively, these are opportunities to impress a manager whose favoured line-up for Champions League evenings is already apparent.

The Croatian has had a bumpy ride since signing from Dinamo Zagreb last year. In a promising start, Simunovic made 18 appearances until January, when a knee injury, surgery and recuperation effectively put an end to his season.

With Rodgers intent on reducing an overblown squad, the central defender's time in Glasgow looked as though it would end in the summer with a £3.75m move to Torino, but the deal fell through.

Mention of the Italian club is not welcome to Simunovic, whose eyes are fixed on the prospect of playing in Europe at a level which has eluded him.

"Torino is finished. That story is over for me," he said. "It's been a tough year, but I used the time carefully. I focused on my fitness and my head.

"Now I am ready. It would mean a lot to play in the Champions League for this club because I didn't get the chance to do that last season.

"I'm ready to play against Borussia. I don't know whether I will or not, but it's about the team. We are very positive.

"We need to believe in how we play. I don't know much about Borussia, but it's about us. We have good attacking players and we are also at home and with the amazing atmosphere inside the stadium." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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