Old foe turns up heat on Celtic as big-time beckons
Published 08/08/2015 | 02:30
A short flight across the North Sea, congenial weather and a strong chance of progress to the group stage of the Champions League - plus points welcomed equally by Celtic and Malmo after they were paired in yesterday's draw for the play-off round.
Both teams are in the hands of confident Norwegian managers Malmo's Age Hareide declared the tie to be "perfect" for his side.
The former Manchester City and Norwich defender added: "Celtic play in a way that suits us very well."
Mind you, Hoops fans have heard this sort of talk from Hareide before at the play-off stage, when he was in charge of Helsingborgs.
After Celtic won the first leg 2-0 in Sweden in 2012, Hareide called them "sloppy" and "lucky" and declared that his players were "better in every respect" than the Scottish champions.
Except, that is, in scoring goals and keeping clean sheets, as was demonstrated when Neil Lennon's side also won the return leg 2-0.
It might also rankle with Hareide that he was only second choice for Malmo when he took charge 18 months ago.
Their principal target had been Ronny Deila, whose preference was to succeed Neil Lennon at Celtic Park.
Deila was not on hand to offer his thoughts, instead delegating the task to his assistant, John Collins. "You have heard me saying it 100 times - it is the best football tournament in the world," said Collins.
"We all want to be involved in it, as coaches, players, journalists. We all want to hear that Champions League tune at Celtic Park. We are all desperate. We all love being part of it and when you are not part of it, it feels like something is missing.
"But, again, if we don't play well and switch off at this level then you can see goals. So far, we have been nice and tight at the back and the results have been good."
Both contenders for the lucrative group stage were praised for their performances in the third qualifying round, Celtic for keeping Qarabag at bay in Baku to secure a 1-0 aggregate win and Malmo for a rousing 3-0 home victory over Salzburg to win 3-2 on aggregate.
"The most important thing was that we came through it and never conceded," said Collins. "That gives the team confidence. I think we can still play better than we did.
"We can pass the ball better than what we did, but over the two games we didn't lose a goal and that is important at this level."
Malmo, though, can take heart from the fact that Celtic have yet to demonstrate real menace up front - a fact Collins acknowledged readily.
More immediately, Celtic will make the short trip across Glasgow tomorrow for the derby meeting with Partick Thistle.
Captain Scott Brown, midfield partner Charlie Mulgrew, and striker Leigh Griffiths are all unlikely to take part.
Thistle may give a debut to striker Mathias Pogba, much-travelled elder brother of Paul, who has spent time in France, Italy, England and Wales while playing international football for Guinea, the country of his birth.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)
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