Tuesday 22 May 2018

Griffiths seeks repeat feat in 'make-or-break' European tie for Celtic

Celtic's Leigh Griffiths. Photo: PA
Celtic's Leigh Griffiths. Photo: PA

Independent.ie Sportsdesk

Leigh Griffiths admits the success of Celtic's entire campaign could hinge on tonight's "make-or-break" Champions League clash with Astana.

After sweeping all domestic rivals aside last term, Brendan Rodgers' outfit once again have aspirations of making their mark in Europe. They take on the Kazakhstan champions in the opening leg of their final qualifier, with a ticket for the group stages and a potential £30m windfall on the line. But Griffiths admits that, with the new season barely a month old, they are facing a match that could define their year.

"It makes or breaks our season if we get to the Champions League," he said. "Last year it set us up on a great platform. We knew it was a difficult group but having Champions League football back at Celtic Park after two disappointing years previously was massive. If we can get back into the group it will put everyone on a real high."

Victory over Rosenborg in the previous round guaranteed that Rodgers' treble winners would be playing in European fixtures until December at worst.

Settled

All that remains to be settled against Astana is whether that is in the continent's premier competition, or its poor relation the Europa League. But Griffiths was defiant when it was put to him by a Kazakh reporter that defeat to their opponents from Central Asia would be "catastrophic".

"I don't think about losing," he shot back. "We as a club don't think about losing. I only think about the Champions League group stages. I don't think about the Europa League."

Celtic head into the first leg boosted by having a packed dossier on Astana following their clash in the third qualifying round last year. But while Rodgers reckons the Kazakhs have not changed much, he says his side have developed a steelier edge since.

"We played them last year and had two tough games which thankfully we got through," said the Northern Irishman, who will still be without defenders Erik Sviatchenko, Dedryck Boyata and striker Moussa Dembele.

"The style hasn't changed so much. It's the same coach, a lot of the same players and the game in which they play is quite direct. But the European games we had last year helped us gain a resilience. It was interesting watching last season's qualifiers back and in terms of how we played the game, what our idea of football was, it was nowhere near what it is now.

Griffiths grabbed goals in both legs last year before Dembele's late penalty saw the Hoops edge out Astana 3-2 on aggregate. With the Frenchman out injured, the responsibility for firing Celtic through now falls squarely on Griffiths' shoulders.

Celtic v FC Astana,

Live, RTé 2 / bT Sport 2, 7.45

Irish Independent

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