Paulo Sergio has claimed that Hearts are the favourites ahead of this weekend’s Betfred Cup semi-final showdown with Celtic.
The two teams go head-to-head on Sunday at BT Murrayfield and the former Hearts manager insists the Jambos are stronger than Brendan Rodgers’ reigning champions.
The Portuguese coach famously defeated Celtic in the semi-final of the 2011/12 Scottish Cup, but believes that Craig Levein’s current crop of players are better equipped to claim victory and a place in the Betfred Cup final.
Speaking from Iran where he manages Sanat Naft, Sergio told the Daily Record: “This is a different game from the one I had for a simple reason. I don’t think anybody can call Celtic the favourites.
“Celtic don’t look as strong to me as they have been and I feel Hearts are a very strong side at the moment. They’re full of confidence and playing at Murrayfield is almost like having a home game.
“It’s not Tynecastle but it’s close enough. It’s Edinburgh and a situation has been created which could actually make it that Hearts are the favourites for this semi-final.
“They have already beaten Celtic this season, so that adds to it and there is their confidence.
“Celtic are struggling in Europe, they are not always getting positive results in the Premiership, while at the same time Hearts are flying at the top of the table. I’d make Hearts the favourites.”
Reflecting on his side’s triumph in 2012, Sergio claimed that his team’s togetherness was second-to-none, despite the club’s financial difficulties.
He revealed: “At that time, we were struggling with all of the problems which everybody knows about now. We were the biggest team in Scotland at that time in terms of togetherness because of what was going on.
“There were so many hard moments to cope with during the season, we had to stay together. We were struggling without money, we were struggling without players, we had so many things to deal with and that kept the group together.”
“It created a bond and a power inside all of us which was very big.
“You must find the way to win and there is always a percentage which gives you a chance. We worked together and organised to achieve that and we did. We worked together, we believed and fought for everything to get the result.”
Despite departing the club soon after his club’s 5-1 victory over city rivals Hibs in the Scottish Cup Final, the Tynecastle club remain close to Sergio’s heart.
The former Sporting CP manager had nothing but praise for the club’s fans who have sold over 27,000 tickets for this weekend’s tie.
“It doesn’t surprise me that almost 30,000 people are going from Hearts to the game because they are a fantastic football club with fantastic fans. They are living a very positive moment with a brand-new stand and everyone committed with the team.
“Craig Levein has done a great job with the players he has signed for this season. Hearts are flying, the confidence has to be on top and there is a freshness, which brings supporters to motivate the side.”