SCOTT Brown has declared there will be “no excuses” for Champions League failure by Celtic this season.
The Scottish champions begin their campaign to reach the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition when they face Icelandic side Stjarnan at Celtic Park tonight in the first leg of their second qualifying round tie.
Ronny Deila’s team are heavy favourites to progress and captain Brown says it is “unthinkable” they will be eliminated at a stage of the tournament which offers no safety net of dropping into the Europa League. But Brown’s sights are set much higher for Celtic as he targets a return to the group stage which he believes should be a minimum requirement.
The influential midfielder missed all of Celtic’s qualifying ties last season as they were knocked out by Maribor in the play-off round, having seen a 6-1 aggregate drubbing by Legia Warsaw in the previous round overturned because the Polish side fielded an ineligible player.
Brown is eager to lead from the front this time and is confident Celtic’s revamped pre-season preparations, which saw them remain at home rather than travelling abroad, will pay dividends over the next few weeks.
“I’m fit and raring to go,” said Brown. “The squad is looking fit and sharp and hopefully we can take that into the game. We are a lot better prepared than last year. It’s always hard when a new manager comes in and changes the formation and the way he wants us to play and it took us a good couple of weeks to get into that last year.
“But now there are no excuses. It’s definitely unthinkable to go out at this stage, especially for a club like Celtic. We should be in the group stage and that’s where we want to be this season.
“There is always that fear in the background of getting knocked out but that’s what keeps you going, that’s what keeps you striving to get into the next round and trying to get into the group stages. If you don’t have that, you doubt yourself already.
“Staying in Scotland for pre-season has helped the new lads who have come in, they see what Lennoxtown is like, they see the nice Scottish weather where it could be sunny one day and then snowing the next!
“But it has been good because we’ve been at home and we know what’s expected and what we’re going to do, we know what formation we’re going to play.
“We’ve seen Stjarnan on DVD and we know what they are going to do, their strengths and weaknesses. They’ve got two big centre-forwards and they are very direct, they have got a couple of wingers that are quick. So I think if we can stop that then we’ve got a great chance.”
Celtic will be without Kris Commons tonight. The 31-year-old playmaker is back in training after suffering a fractured toe in a domestic accident when a wardrobe fell on him.
Commons missed all three of Celtic’s pre-season friendlies and is not yet ready to return to action.
“Hopefully Kris will be available for the second leg in Iceland next week,” said manager Deila. “He is still feeling a bit of pain, so it’s about being cautious.”