Brendan Rodgers heaped praise on his Celtic players for coping with suffocating conditions in Armenia to take a huge step towards the second qualifying round of the Champions League.
Goals from Odsonne Edouard, James Forrest and Callum McGregor gave the Scottish champions a 3-0 win over Alashkert in Yerevan in the first leg of their first qualifying round tie which was played in an oppressive temperature of around 36 degrees.
Celtic manager Rodgers rated Alashkert as a significant step up from both Lincoln Red Imps and Linfield, the opponents his team eliminated at the same stage of the Champions League in his previous two seasons in charge.
He was understandably satisfied with a performance and victory which should make next Wednesday’s second leg at Celtic Park little more than a formality.
“It is very pleasing,” Rodgers told BBC Scotland. “Of the three first qualifying round ties we have played, that was the most difficult. You could see Alashkert have pace in the team and are technically good.
“I’m really proud of the players, to play in that heat and end up really controlling the game. It was important to keep a clean sheet.
“As you start to tire in the game, you can maybe lose a goal cheaply. But we didn’t do that. We concentrated well and scored three very good goals.
“It was breathless, really. You sensed it just standing in it. The air was very tight. But I thought they coped with it very well. They’ll really benefit from that in terms of fitness. It sets us up well for the next leg.
“It’s a huge credit to the players and medical staff. We know we have a long way to go to get to full capacity. But at this stage (of the season), to show that hunger and desire to continue to work right to the very end was the real winning difference.
“They kept pushing and kept working and got their rewards, so it was great credit to how hard they have worked fitness-wise.”
Rodgers, whose team will play either Norwegian champions Rosenborg or Valur of Iceland the second qualifying round if they complete the job at home to Alashkert next week, welcomed the contribution of record £9 million signing Edouard who scored his first European goal for Celtic.
“It was really good timing and a really good finish,” added Rodgers. “He doesn’t need to justify his price tag. He’s an outstanding talent and he just gets on with his football.”