MO BANGURA is winning his race to be fit to play for Elfsborg against parent club Celtic in tonight’s Champions League third qualifier second leg at the Boras Arena.
The on-loan Sierra Leone forward controversially featured in the 1-0 first-leg defeat at Parkhead last week against the wishes of Celtic manager Neil Lennon.
Bangura picked up a leg injury at training earlier this week but the Swedish club’s manager Jorgen Lennartsson said: “Yes, he is fit to play. We will have a final test in the warm-up before the game but there is no problem at all.”
Bangura told Sky Sports: “I am fine” but the striker was coy about the extent of his motivation to beat Celtic. It is not about motivation, I just want to get games, train hard and work hard. We have to step up our game and see what happens. It is not going to be easy.”
Lennartsson insists the Swedes will not be sucked into going all out for an early goal against the Scottish champions, who reached the last-16 of the tournament last season after battling their way through two qualifiers. “There is no rush,” he said. “There is no stress on us to score early. If we score in the 65th minute to make it 1-0 then the pressure will go on Celtic. So we don’t feel it necessary to be on the offensive right from the beginning. We have to score so we will make small changes to the team.”
Although Celtic need not be unduly wary of Elfsborg’s artificial surface – they beat HJK Helsinki and Spartak Moscow last season and Cliftonville in the previous qualifier on their respective plastic pitches – Lennartsson believes his side’s home ground holds the key to them overcoming the first-leg deficit. He said: “Normally clubs are stronger at home but we don’t just play at our stadium, we also train there. The technical players in our side feel very comfortable playing there so we are confident.
“We will have 10,000 fans behind us this time and that too, could be a big difference.
“We still feel Celtic are favourites to get through the tie. They have quality players and a good record in the Champions League last year. So nothing has changed since the first game but we don’t feel the tie is over. We feel we have a chance. There is no pressure to go through to the Champions League, there is pressure on Celtic to get there.”
Meanwhile, Fraser Forster is looking for another Champions League run with Celtic to bolster his ambitions of playing in next summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil with England.
Celtic reached the last 16 of the tournament last season which led to the Geordie being called up into Roy Hodgson’s squad on several occasions, albeit without getting any game time.
Speaking at the team hotel in Boras yesterday, Forster was asked how important European football’s elite club competition was to his international aspirations. “It is obviously huge,” replied the 25-year-old who started his career at Newcastle. “I wouldn’t have got in the squad last season if it wasn’t for that campaign so more of the same really. It is obviously a big year going into next summer and the World Cup in Brazil is something special. Everyone who is English wants to be on the plane there and it would be a part of it but the only way you can get in that squad is by playing well for your club and playing in big games.
“I’ve always said it was a dream of mine to play for England at some stage.”
Striker Gary Hooper left Parkhead for Norwich recently citing a belief that his Three Lions ambitions might be best served playing in England.
Forster said: “Playing in the Premier League can only help him. There is more exposure and you get the opportunity to play against Man United, Man City, Liverpool and I have no doubt that he will prove down south how good a player he is. But for me, it is probably slightly different.
“I was fortunate enough to break into the (England squad) a few times last season and it was special. It will be great to be back in the Champions League and that is really all I am focused on at the minute.