RONNY Deila believes Celtic have put themselves in pole position to reach the Play-Off round of the Champions League despite having to settle for a narrow 1-0 lead against Qarabag in Glasgow.
The Scottish champions were given a stern examination by their Azerbaijani opponents in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie last night before Dedryck Boyata broke the deadlock in the 82nd minute.
Deila concedes that the tie is firmly in the balance ahead of next Wednesday’s return fixture in Baku. But he is optimistic that the clean sheet kept by Celtic has given them a potentially crucial advantage.
“If we score over there, Qarabag will need to score three goals which is hard for them,” said Deila. “So we have a good chance. It is almost like having an extra goal when you don’t concede at home.
“Player for player, we are a stronger team than Qarabag and we have speed in the team to do well on the counter-attack away from home.
“I believe in my team and we have put ourselves in a good position. The tie is not won yet, of course. It was an even game tonight. We had more chances than Qarabag, they didn’t have many.
“We had three or four chances and got one goal. That’s okay. The result reflected the game. I’m happy we didn’t concede anything. Our two central defenders, Dedryck and Virgil van Dijk, were great – real class. It helps that Dedryck can also score.
“Qarabag are a very good team. You saw that from the results they had in the Europa League last season, so we knew it was going to be tough. We have created a good chance to go through with a 1-0 win.
“The most important thing was to get 100 per cent effort from our team tonight and we got that.
“Qarabag were hard to break down, but the ball went too slow from us in the first half and we didn’t get down the sides enough. We were better in the second half.
“I liked the possession and pressure we had in the second half but we have to turn that into more chances.”
Deila again preferred Nadir Ciftci in attack to Leigh Griffiths but revealed the decision was relatively straightforward.
“It wasn’t so hard to make because Leigh has been struggling with toothache,” added Deila. “He was at the dentist in the morning and didn’t get much sleep. If not, it would have been a harder decision. But Nadir played very well tonight.”
Qarabag’s coach Gurban Gurbanov was relatively content with the outcome and insists his team are capable of turning the tie around in Baku.
“I said before the match we could lose by one goal and it would be acceptable for us, but of course 1-0 is also a good result for Celtic,” said Gurbanov.
“We tried hard to get an away goal but couldn’t achieve it. But I am very hopeful we can score in the second leg.
“I am very satisfied with my team. I liked the way they played tonight. Before the game, we knew it would be difficult for us here but I don’t want to think about it too much, because everything will be decided in the second leg.
“It was exciting for us to play at Celtic Park but you will also see a very interesting game in Baku with a lot of Azeri fans. We have great supporters as well and they are going to help us next week.”