Shakhter v Celtic: Scott Brown has eyes on prize

Skipper Scott Brown is confident Celtic’s players are well aware of what is at stake against Shakhter Karagandy in the first leg of their Champions League play-off tie in the Astana Arena this evening.

Celtic captain Scott Brown will lead the team against Shakhter Karagandy. Picture: SNS
Celtic captain Scott Brown will lead the team against Shakhter Karagandy. Picture: SNS

Entry into the lucrative group stages of the competition for the second successive season could inject around £20 million into the Parkhead coffers.

The Scotland midfielder believes his team-mates are focused on the job in hand and in even better shape to take that next step than they were a year ago.

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“The players understand how huge this is, how big Celtic are and why we should be in the Champions League,” he said.

“The two ties are huge, the biggest of the season and we are only three or four weeks in.

“We we were back really early, it was a hard pre-season but we are starting to see the benefits now.

“I feel we are fitter and sharper than this time last season. Not having long off during the close season has helped get up to match speed quicker.

“But it is going to be very hard. We have seen videos of our opponents. A draw is a good result for us going back to Celtic Park.”

Celtic will be asked again to play on an artificial surface after overcoming plastic pitches in earlier qualifiers against Cliftonville and Elfsborg.

Brown, though, is taking it in his stride. He said: “I don’t think it is ideal for a qualification for the Champions League but we played on plastic in the last round in Elfsborg so we know what to expect.”

Meanwhile, due to restrictions on alcohol promotion in Kazakhstan the Celtic shirts will carry the logo of Tipperary Natural Mineral Water rather than their main sponsor, Magners, in tonight’s game. Tipperary Natural Mineral Water is owned by C&C Group, owners of Magners Cider.

The referee for tonight’s match is Pavel Kralovec, the Czech official who had a hand in Scotland’s failure to reach the last World Cup.

Kralovec, who was once banned for six games for mistakes made in Czech football, will be officiating at his first match involving a Scottish club side.The 36-year-old is well known to the national team after awarding a hotly-disputed penalty to the hosts in Scotland’s 1-0 away defeat by Macedonia in 2008.