ZATO wants to push Celtic off Champions League track, he tells Neil Murray
KR Reykjavik supporters call Farid Zato the Train from Togo and the youngster has a Champions League mission – to derail Celtic’s journey to the group stages.
The Icelandic champions host the Glasgow giants on Tuesday as Celtic aim to get off to a winning start under newly-appointed manager Ronny Deila in the first leg of their second-round qualifying tie.
Standing in Celtic’s way is 6ft enforcer Zato, with the Togolese international KR’s version of former Celtic powerhouse Victor Wanyama in the middle of the park.
The 22-year-old is thrilled about the opportunity of playing on the big stage against the Scottish champions and he is not fazed by the magnitude of the task.
KR go into the first leg on a successful run of home form, having won their last five matches. They won their 26th Urvalsdeild title last year by five points from FH and the African star has faith in the side coach Runar Kristinsson has put together to cause a potential upset.
He said: “We’re looking forward to the Celtic games. I don’t know much about this current team, just the players that have been at the World Cup this summer, like Efe Ambrose from Nigeria.
“I am a fan of Wanyama and it’s a pity he left as I would have liked to have played against him, though my favourite player is Yaya Toure and he is a big influence on my career.
“On paper Celtic are strong favourites, but anything is possible in football. We have a good young team and have been doing pretty good this year.
“Our manager has been preparing us well for the game. We hope to do our best and try to win if that’s possible.”
Zato is a recent signing for KR, having joined up with Kristinsson’s squad from league rivals Vikingur in February and, on his debut, helped his new side defeat Fram 2-0 to win the Icelandic Super Cup in April.
The tough-tackling midfielder – who won his only cap for Togo against the Democratic Republic of Congo last year – believes Celtic should not underestimate his side despite their inexperience.
He added: “We have started well in the league and I’ve settled into the team, even though I only joined at the start of this season. I’ve played the last few years in Iceland having come over from Togo as a teenager and there are some good young players in the league.”
Celtic will head to KR’s 3,000-capacity Vollur Stadium for only their second tie against Icelandic opposition in European competition, the other being a 9-0 aggregate win against Valur in 1975.
KR’s record against Scottish teams is far from impressive, having lost 14-1 to Aberdeen 47 years ago and 2-1 to Kilmarnock in 1999.
Deila has added just one player to his squad for this crucial encounter. The Norwegian captured experienced Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon on a free transfer and could hand the ex-Hearts man his debut in Iceland, with Fraser Forster having spent part of the summer on England duty at the World Cup.
Zato has a transfer dream of his own and he wants to show any watching scouts taking this tie in that he can play in a higher standard of league.
“Personally I was very happy when I saw the draw was against Celtic,” revealed Zato. “It’s an opportunity to impress on this type of stage and show what we can do. I want to progress as a footballer so, if I do well, hopefully it will alert some clubs. I would like to play in a better league.”
With the second leg on 22 July moved to Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh due to Celtic Park being used as a Commonwealth Games venue, Zato admitted that is one downside of the draw.
He said: “I am disappointed the second game won’t be at Celtic Park as I have seen the stadium on TV and it would have been excellent. It will still be good to play in Scotland in another big stadium.
“We don’t have a great chance, but, in football, you never know.”