Nir Bitton warns against Celtic complacency in Israel
Nir Bitton has urged his Celtic team-mates to keep cool heads as they seek to complete their passage to the Champions League group stage in his homeland next week.
The Scottish champions will take a commanding 5-2 lead into the second leg of their play-off round tie against Hapoel Beer-Sheva on Tuesday night.
Israeli international midfielder Bitton admits it will be an emotional occasion for him as he returns home on competitive action as a Celtic player for the first time since joining them three years ago.
The 24-year-old is confident Brendan Rodgers’ team will progress but has warned against any complacency at the Turner Stadium in Beersheba where the Israeli champions remain unbeaten in all competitions since they moved there last year.
“It will be an amazing atmosphere in their stadium,” said Bitton. “It only holds 16,000 fans but they will be with their team for the whole game. It’s their first chance to make it to the Champions League, so it means everything to their fans.
“We just have to be smart – we have a three-goal lead – and if we stick to our gameplan hopefully we can go through.
“I’ve never played in this stadium before because it’s newly built but the fans will be the same as before.
“They are renowned as one of the best supports in Israel, especially now with their team on a high as champions.
“All of the city are massively behind them – but it doesn’t alter our thoughts on the game. We are there to win and it’s simple.
“It’s not the perfect scenario for me personally. It’s nice to celebrate in front of your family and friends but I will not go over the top in front of my own countrymen if we win.
“The only thing I want is to go to the Champions League and who we beat to get there is not the main thing.
“Football is all about respect and it would not be right to show disrespect to this team and their fans.
“But Celtic is a side that deserves to be in the Champions League and tries to be there every year.
“Of course we will celebrate and be happy – but I have lots of friends in the Hapoel team, players I know from the national team and others I just know from playing against them. It was emotional to play against friends at Celtic Park on Wednesday night and it will be the same in Israel.
“I will have a lot of family and friends at the game next week. At the moment it will be around 30 of them – it would be more if I could get more tickets.
“It’s always an emotional time, but I have to try and put it out my mind. It’s nice for the newspapers to write about and it’s good for my family to get me back home, but when I go out on the pitch then it has to be out of my head.
“I can’t get caught up in emotion as I try and help Celtic get to the Champions League.”