We'll be in draw for Champions League predicts Astana boss

Astana boss Stanimir Stoilov believes it is his side '“ and not Celtic '“ who are destined for the Champions League.

Astana manager Stanimir Stoilov
Astana manager Stanimir Stoilov

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For the second year running, the Kazakh outfit stand between the Scottish champions and the £30 million windfall that comes with a place in the group stage.

While it was Celtic last year who marched on after Moussa Dembele’s injury-time penalty sealed a narrow 3-2 aggregate win, Stoilov remains confident ahead of tonight’s play-off round first-leg showdown at Celtic Park.

The Bulgarian coach said: “I think that next Thursday we will be participating in the draw for the Champions League. This is the best result for me.

“We know that Celtic are a big team historically and that is our motivation. Another is that the Champions League is in front of us and this is enough for the players to produce a good game.”

Astana became the first Kazakhstan team to appear in the group stages when they qualified in 2015. But they were denied a return 12 months later when Dembele fired home his 92nd-minute spot-kick as the visitors lost their cool.

They had two players sent off in the chaos that followed that penalty award and Stoilov admits his team need to keep emotions in check amid the noise and crackle created by Celtic Park’s 60,000 capacity.

“Discipline is, of course, the most important thing in the game,” said the former Levski Sofia boss. “We would like to play quite confidently although last time our emotions actually let us down.

“But we know it is going to be two games and not one. We know we must keep our emotions for both games and keep our motivation for both games.”

Despite having come through four European fixtures, their Betfred Cup romp over Kilmarnock and two Ladbrokes Premiership clashes so far, Rodgers claims none of his men is yet up to full speed in terms of match fitness.

The Kazakhs, on the contrary, are 23 games through their domestic campaign but Stoilov does not buy Rodgers’ reckoning.

“In my opinion Celtic are already 100 per cent fit,” he said. “They have played six official games and two friendly matches.”