Brendan Rodgers has pledged Celtic will be ready to cope with an arduous and potentially awkward trip to Kazakhstan when their quest to reach the group stage of the Champions League continues next week.
Goals from Mikael Lustig, Leigh Griffiths and Patrick Roberts secured a 3-0 win over Lincoln Red Imps at Celtic Park last night, overturning the embarrassing 1-0 defeat suffered in the first leg of the second qualifying round tie in Gibraltar eight days earlier.
The Scottish champions now face Astana, who defeated Zalgiris Vilnius 2-1 on aggregate thanks to a 92nd-minute winner last night, with the first leg expected to take place in the Kazakh capital next Wednesday night.
That will mean a 6,000-mile round trip for Celtic, who lost 2-0 to Shakhter Karagandy on the same artificial pitch at the Astana Arena in 2013, before salvaging that tie with a 3-0 win at home. But Rodgers, who expressed satisfaction with his team’s display last night while admitting it still fell short of the standards he is seeking, is confident Celtic will handle the demands placed upon them on and off the pitch next week.
“We will look forward to the trip,” he said. “It will be difficult but we will be ready. Apart form the six-hour flight, five hour time difference, 35 degree heat and plastic pitch with no water, it should be alright!
“It is what is thrown at us. We will fly out on Monday if the game is on the Wednesday. They will be trying conditions but we have to find a way to get a performance and a result.
“I’m pleased to qualify, that was the objective coming into tonight. I was very pleased with the first 30 minutes when we got our three goals. The intensity was outstanding in the team, our pressing and forcing mistakes and then scoring goals,” added Rodgers.
“It certainly wasn’t perfect, we have a way to go before we are where I want us to be. But I’m delighted with the attitude of the players and how they took the game right from kick-off. We scored three and their goalkeeper probably stopped it being double figures. We are through and that’s the most important thing.
“We are still only four weeks into pre-season, so I wouldn’t expect us to be anywhere near what I want. But there was some fluency and structural things in the team which were very pleasing. Over time, the cohesion will get better when the fitness comes.”
Rodgers also hopes to have at least one new signing in place for the Astana tie. The Uefa signing deadline for the third qualifying round is 11pm tonight, with one more player able to be added if registered the night before the first leg.
“We need one or two more in,” added Rodgers. “Let’s hope we can do something before the deadline on Thursday night.”