Scotland

Celtic have ‘nothing to fear’ from AEK in Champions League – Brendan Rodgers

Viktor Klonaridis’ away goal means Celtic must score in Athens to progress

Celtic have “nothing to fear” against AEK Athens and still have a “great chance” of progressing in the Champions League, says manager Brendan Rodgers.

The Scottish champions must score in Greece on Tuesday to have a chance of progressing after Viktor Klonaridis equalised Callum McGregor’s opener.

AEK played the final 33 minutes with 10 men after Konstantinis Galanopoulos was dismissed for two bookable offences.

But Rodgers told Radio Scotland his side were “outstanding” and “dominant”.

When asked about Celtic’s chances of advancing to a play-off round tie with Swedish champions Malmo or Hungarians MOL Vidi, the manager said: “After that performance, I think we feel a lot more confident we can do that.

“It was always going to be difficult, whatever the result tonight. But I said to the players, we have nothing to fear.

“We put in a big performance and didn’t quite get the result tonight, but it allows us an opportunity to go out there and get a result.”

McGregor’s goal after 17 minutes came while Celtic had a firm grip on the contest, but failings in the home defence allowed Klonaridis to level just before the break.

Celtic had most of the play after the interval, but struggled to cleave open a resolute AEK defence.

“I thought we really dominated that first period,” said Rodgers. “The players were outstanding. The only frustration was we didn’t finish off some really good play.

“If we had come in having not made the mistake for the goal and won 1-0, I would have been ecstatic with the performance at this stage of the season.”

Rodgers not focusing on transfers

Celtic must travel to face the Greek champions next week without Norwegian centre-back Kristoffer Ajer, who will be suspended.

That means Belgian Dedryck Boyata – who was subject of a rejected £8m bid from Fulham this week, and is yet to feature since returning from the World Cup – and Jozo Simunovic may be pressed into action.

“I don’t think we want to lose any of our centre-halves,” Rodgers said. “We will have to look at Dedryck to see where he is at, and Jozo is available as well. It is unfortunate because Kris has been great for us.”

Rodgers, too, refused to be drawn on his reaction to the news that long-time target John McGinn has signed for Aston Villa.

Celtic had several bids rejected for the Scotland midfielder, who Rodgers earlier this week conceded he “clearly wanted to bring” to the club.

“My thinking now is for the players who are at the club, how to help us get better and see if we can get into the final qualifying round,” he said.

“Obviously we have a game at the weekend too and that is my only concentration really.”

‘It will be a test of nerve’ – reaction

Former Celtic goalkeeper Pat Bonner on Sportsound

The second leg really will be a test of nerve and mentality for Celtic. The players will have to stand up to it.

They still have a chance, because AEK Athens will probably play a similar way at home, on the counter-attack. Celtic have enough ability to score an away goal, but they’ll have to be very, very careful.

Former Celtic striker Scott McDonald on Sportsound

Playing against 10 men made it harder for Celtic. AEK’s job was just to spoil, and not even try to counter.

There are big question marks on who Rodgers plays next week. He has to bring Boyata in – this is last chance saloon now.

BBC Scotland pundit Michael Stewart
Former Celtic striker Chris Sutton

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