What to expect from Celtic’s opponents ahead of the first leg:
Having only been founded in 2009, Astana have limited experience on the European stage. However they have enjoyed a steady upward trajectory and enjoyed a promising debut season in the Champions League in 2015-16. After being knocked out of the Europa League in the final play-off round the year before, Astana won their domestic league before being drawn alongside Benfica, Atletico Madrid and Galatasaray in the group stages of Europe’s major club competition. Despite the tough draw, they emerged with credit with four draws and two defeats but failed to build on that a year later when they were knocked out in qualifying.
The threats of Astana will be nothing knew to Celtic, who were responsible for knocking the Kazakhstan champions out of Europe last year. Moussa Dembele netted from the spot in stoppage time to seal a 3-2 aggregate win in the third qualifying round, sending Astana into the Europa League. Leigh Griffiths grabbed a vital away goal in the first leg as Celtic managed a 1-1 draw on an artificial pitch in front of nearly 30,000 fans, but the tie looked to be heading to extra-time in the return fixture at Celtic Park with the sides again locked at one apiece. However Dembele was on hand to send his side through to the next round.
Since their inception in 2009, Astana have emerged as the dominant team in Kazakhstan football - winning three league titles on the bounce - and they look set to make it four as they currently hold a seven-point lead over nearest challengers Kairat Almaty. They are currently on a run of eight league wins on the bounce, but suffered a 1-0 defeat to Legia Warsaw in the previous round of qualifying in Europe after taking the first leg 3-1 at home.
Bulgarian manager Stanimir Stoilov has been the man behind the success at Astana, leading them to the title in each of his three years in charge to date. A former Bulgarian international - he earned 14 caps for the national side - Stoilov enjoyed some early success in charge of Levski Sofia before a brief period in charge of the national side. It ended badly when he resigned after just 14 matches, but he has found his feet in Kazakhstan, adding three league titles and two cup wins to the six major titles he won in four years at Sofia.