Kumykov has Shakhter primed to shock Celtic

Celtic are put through their paces ahead of their Champions League play-off tie. Picture: SNS
Celtic are put through their paces ahead of their Champions League play-off tie. Picture: SNS
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VIKTOR Kumykov claims Shakhter Karagandy will have the whole of Kazakhstan behind his team when they take on Celtic in the first leg of their Champions League play-off at the Astana Arena this evening.

The Kazakh club have moved the match 114 miles away from their own ground to the artificial surface in Astana, looking to take a step closer to becoming the first team from the former Soviet republic to reach the Champions League.

Manager Kumykov claims everyone in the country will put aside their usual allegiances to root for his side in what has turned into something of a national event.

“We believe the supporters are very important in this game,” said the Russian. “We think there will be many supporters there, not only from Karaganda (the main city in Karagandy province) and Astana but other parts of the country and we believe and hope the whole nation will be behind us.”

Shakhter disposed of Belarusian side BATE Borisov in the second qualifying round before knocking out Skenderbeu of Albania.

However, Kumykov claimed his club are only learning the game compared to Celtic.

“This game is going to be very difficult for us,” he said. “We are newcomers to the Champions League, Celtic is a very experienced club and are former champions of Europe.

“We are students and they are teachers. Our main task is to obtain the experience of playing in the Champions League.

“We recognise that Celtic are more experienced and stronger than us. But football is illogical and you cannot be sure about anything. In football, the strongest side does not always win and there are many examples of that, even in the Champions League. We have watched all their European games, the game against Aberdeen and the friendly against Liverpool. They are a very good side, with very good players. Celtic also play aggressively so we expect it to be a very tough game.”

Kumykov was less forthcoming when asked to comment on the revelation that the Kazakhstan club had again killed a sheep in order to bring them good luck.

The sacrifice took place at the stadium before the players trained but the Shakhter manager tried to play it down.

“This is a play-off round and we decided not to break this tradition,” he said. “It is quite important for us. I would not like to disclose in detail.”

Shakhter Karagandy go into the game on the back of a 2-1 league win over Astana at the same stadium where they will take on Celtic.

Captain Andrei Finonchenko, who scored the winning goal as a substitute on Saturday, said: “When we played BATE, we did not believe we would reach this stage. But after we beat BATE and then Skenderbeu the players became more confident. We are highly motivated going into this game and hope to do our best.”