Celtic out to restore Scottish pride in battle of champions

Callum McGregor says Celtic want to show the Scottish champions can handle England's elite. Picture: SNS
Callum McGregor says Celtic want to show the Scottish champions can handle England's elite. Picture: SNS
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Callum McGregor says Celtic can strike a blow for the battered prestige of Scottish football by beating Leicester City today.

Already this season, Scottish clubs have slumped to mortifying defeats in single European matches against opponents from Gibraltar, Luxembourg and Malta.

Fortunately, the 1-0 reversals suffered by Celtic and Aberdeen against Lincoln Red Imps and Fola Esch respectively were overturned by victories in the home legs of their ties.

There was no such salvation for Hearts who fell to one of the most embarrassing European eliminations recorded by a Scottish team when they lost 2-1 at home to Maltese minnows Birkirkara on Thursday night.

Celtic’s bid to reach the group stage of the Champions League will continue next Wednesday with the first leg of their third qualifying round tie against Astana in Kazakhstan.

Before then, midfielder McGregor wants to help Celtic claim some bragging rights from this afternoon’s International Champions Cup challenge match against English Premier League winners Leicester at Parkhead.

“The English champions are coming up here so we want to go out and show that the Scottish champions can handle them,” said McGregor. “Even though it’s a friendly, we don’t want to lose. We want to put in a good performance and show we can handle that test.

“It’s also good preparation for us before Astana.

“Obviously Leicester will be faster and stronger than anyone we’ve played so far this season, so we need to match that and it’ll be a good test before Wednesday.

“Hopefully we can come through it and then we’ll be ready.

“Leicester can definitely be an inspiration to us as well. They won the Premier League last year when everyone expected them to fall away. But each week they just got stronger and stronger.

“It just shows what can be done with a real good team ethic and working hard together. So if we take a wee bit of that into these Champions League qualifiers, hopefully we’ll be all right.”

Celtic were unable to add to their squad before Thursday night’s 11pm Uefa signing deadline for players to be eligible for the third qualifying round ties. But manager Brendan Rodgers still has the option of making one “wild card” signing if a deal can be completed by Tuesday night.

A new central defender is Celtic’s priority but Blackburn Rovers manager Owen Coyle has dismissed speculation linking his Republic of Ireland international Shane Duffy with a move to the Scottish champions.

“In regards to Shane, there’s been no concrete offers from Celtic, in terms of a written offer, so that’s the only thing I can class as interest,” said Coyle.

“If there’s other people speculating, then I can’t really comment on that. I only deal in the facts and the fact is there’s been no concrete offer from Glasgow Celtic for Shane Duffy.”