Mikael Lustig says Celtic must not underestimate Rosenborg

Mikael Lustig, left, in action for Celtic against Linfield. Photograph: Getty Images
Mikael Lustig, left, in action for Celtic against Linfield. Photograph: Getty Images
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Rosenborg will travel to Celtic hankering after a past where European adventures allowed them to rub shoulders with the finest from Spain and England, from Germany and Italy.

A club with a rich history, where domestic dominance allowed them a seat amongst the continent’s other champions, they have seen their influence wane as the qualifying route becomes more and more protracted.

It means that it has now been a decade since the Norwegian club made it into the group stages of the contest, with Europa League football the only consolation in recent years.

“It is a different kind of game these days,” says Celtic fullback Mikael Lustig, who spent four seasons in Trondheim prior to arriving at Parkhead in 2012. “There’s a lot more money involved.

“But back then they were a little bit like Celtic in 1967, they were 11 local players in the starting line-up. Now it’s maybe a maximum of three or four and there rest are foreigners, and it’s getting harder to compete.

“They had a really good team, though, and it made it hard to be a Rosenborg player who followed them, because people always talked about the history and thought it was better before.

“Of course, you want to play with a club with a strong history, who have a good fan base and play in the Champions League. But it is hard to live up to it.”

In 2010/11, Lustig and his Rosenborg team-mates made it to the play-off but lost out to Danish side Copenhagen and had to settle for another Europa League excursion.

“We were close but it’s harder now. Back then, there were times when, if they won the Norwegian League, they went right into the groups but now they have four qualifying rounds.” Hailing from a smaller nation, most years there was at least one qualifying round. But now the road is more treacherous, with Czech, Cypriot and now, hopefully, Scottish sides proving an obstacle to their plans.

“The fact the fans still expect it makes it a little bit hard for the players. They’re still the biggest club in Norway and they still have to win the league or it’s a big disappointment. Which makes the Champions League a massive thing for them. But at times they haven’t even been in the Europa League the last few seasons, so they really need it just now.”

But underestimating them when the teams meet up at Celtic Park on Wednesday in the competition’s third qualifying round, would be a failing, according to Lustig. “It’s been a while since they were fixtures in the Champions League,” said the Swedish international.

“When you play in a team who have a really good history it makes it hard, especially when it’s different times these days – but they’re still a good team and it’s not an easy draw. There’s no doubt they’re the best team in Norway but they have struggled in Europe in recent years. But we have the first game at Celtic Park and we’ll go for it straight away. They’ll think this is a tough draw as well, and it’ll be interesting to see what their game plan is, whether they go for it here or try to get a result to take back with them. Either way, we need to be at our best. They have a couple of really good players but hopefully we can take advantage of the fact we’re at home first.”

Only Ajax, Dynamo Moscow, Arsenal and Maribor have defeated Celtic in the home leg of their 26 past Champions League qualifying ties, stretching back almost two decades, making Parkhead a formidable place for any opponents to front up.

The games against Linfield taught Celtic to be patient, laying siege to the Northern Ireland side’s goal, knowing they had the quality to eventually break through the opposition’s defiant sit-in. They did that twice in Belfast and then rattled in another four at home and know that more clinical finishing in front of goal could have seen them add to that tally. While Rosenborg are a more difficult prospect, and have the advantage of being midway through their domestic season, Lustig, who is relishing a reunion with old friends, believes Brendan Rodgers men have the ability and class to ultimately prolong the Norwegian side’s Champions League exile.

“We have more quality in this team and more money to spend as well so it’s easier for a club like Celtic to reach the groups. I tried at Rosenborg and we were really close once, but we didn’t make it. But they’re really hungry to get back into the Champions League. Hopefully we can stop them.”

With Stuart Armstrong, a key player in the Invincibles season, restricted to a substitute appearance in the second leg against Linfield, Rodgers was able to give newcomer Olivier Ntcham a run out in the starting line-up and his performance demonstrated the strength in depth that the Scottish champions have. Lustig is pleased with the attributes that Ntcham and other newly-acquired colleagues bring to the squad.

“Olivier is a quality player. He’ll take a little time to settle but I think you saw against Linfield how good he is. It is a different way to play for Jonny [Hayes] coming from Aberdeen, who play a little bit more with man marking and bit more simple football with the longer balls, but you can see his qualities and he’s going to bring a lot of joy to this team.”

He also believes that young Kundai Benyu is an exciting prospect, giving his Celtic boss plentiful options.

At home Celtic, who will be without the suspended Leigh Griffiths, will try to emphasise that superiority and capitalise on the home crowd – albeit one depleted and, possibly somewhat muted, by the closure of the Green Brigade section – but Lustig says that even if they still have work to do in Trondheim, the task should not be considered beyond them.

“It’s a nice stadium with good fans but it’s not like we’re travelling for six hours and having to play in 40 degree heat. It’s a two-hour flight and the pitch will be decent so from that point of view it’s good. They still have two or three players from when I was there and I know a lot of people around the club still, so it will be special for me.

“I had a really good three and a half years there but I left on a free transfer so I’m not sure what the welcome will be like. I had a really strong connection with the fans, though, so I’m looking forward to going back.

“It’ll be a brilliant atmosphere but they’re playing against a tough team who have energy and confidence so hopefully they’re going to struggle.”