Brendan Rodgers believes Valur Reykjavik’s shock win over Rosenborg on Wednesday night has underlined why the new Champions League qualifying format is more hazardous than ever for clubs like Celtic.
The Scottish champions, who secured an impressive 3-0 win over Alashkert in Armenia on Tuesday in the first leg of their first qualifying round tie, have been widely tipped to face Rosenborg in the next stage of the competition.
But the Norwegian champions slipped to a 1-0 defeat against Valur in Iceland, leaving the identity of Celtic’s second qualifying round opponents very much in the balance.
For Rodgers, whose team must negotiate four qualifiers this season if they are to reach the group stage for a third consecutive year, it was another indication of how much tougher it has become.
“The Valur win just shows you,” said Rodgers. “Everyone was probably looking at Rosenborg as being the favourites in that tie but this is a really treacherous period to be playing your games in the tournament.
“Rosenborg are midway through their domestic season as well, so we’ll see how that evolves next week in the second leg. Whoever we play, if we get through our own tie, we’ll meet the challenge.
“I could tell just five minutes into our game against Alashkert on Tuesday that they were a team who were a step up from either of the previous first qualifying round ties I’ve been involved in since I came to Celtic.
‘’It was just in terms of the speed of their game, the intensity with which they tried to press early on and the conditions. It was going to be a difficult game for us.
‘So it was really a mark of where our players are at in terms of their mentality and fitness that we won 3-0. We withstood that. Our preparation has been to try and fast-track them into 90 minutes.
“When we were away in pre-season, we played two full 90 minute games and I think that really helped the players, especially in the heat.
‘To score a couple of goals late on, as we did in Armenia, is always a good sign of a team’s mental and physical fitness. So, yes, it was a very good result for us and performance at this stage of the season. We’ll never be perfect but it gives us a nice advantage coming to play at home in the second leg next Wednesday.”
Rodgers was especially encouraged by the performances of French strike duo Odsonne Edouard and Moussa Dembele in Yerevan.
“They have played together before in a different sort of structure in the team,” he said. “There’s a respect there for each other’s talents. They are quite synchronised in how they work at times. Odsonne can play off the left side a little bit as well but they looked a real handful and threat.
“This is a period where we’re looking at various things within our tactics that can hopefully help us going forward and in the games they’ve played together, they’ve looked everything you’d want – fast, strong, dynamic and quality.”
Both players, along with compatriot Olivier Ntcham, reported no ill effects yesterday from their involvement in a road traffic accident near Cumbernauld on Wednesday which is now the subject of a report to the procurator fiscal.
“The guys, thankfully, were fine and the guy in the other car was too,” said Rodgers. “It was obviously a scare for them. There’s not too much we can say as it’s under investigation but there are no injuries.”
Rodgers, meanwhile, believes Scotland can take inspiration from Croatia’s progress to the World Cup final. The Balkan nation, with a smaller population than Scotland, face France in Moscow on Sunday.
Rodgers said: “Croatia have, over a period of years, produced teams that have qualified and now they’re in a World Cup final.
“It should give a great inspiration to countries like Scotland as they’re showing it can be done. It can’t be an accident, not when you’re sustaining it .
“They do it from a very technical base. Is that the key for Scotland to improve? Yeah – but lots of people here are still happy to work the way they are. So you can’t then cry when you come into the national team and wonder why your players don’t keep the ball.
“It comes from kids and then from influences throughout as well. I think it’s something Malky Mackay and his team at the SFA are looking to address. There are certainly enough gifted players up here who can work in a really specific way.”