Celtic will return to Iceland next month to face Stjarnan F.C. The draw for the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League has paired Ronny Deila with Icelandic opposition for the second year running.
With neither team having faced each other before, both will be doing their homework with European football at stake. Many will feel this is a tie Celtic are more than capable of winning comfortably but Stjarnan will be using last seasons Europa League qualifiers as a base to progress.
Stjarnan F.C. overcame Bangor City, Motherwell and Lech Poznań only to exit at the hands of Celtic’s Europa League victors Inter Milan in the play off round. However, Celtic swept aside KR Reykjavík at the same stage of Champions League qualifying last season and will feel confident they can do the same to the current Icelandic champions.
The Icelandic season runs from May to September and as a result, Stjarnan have already played 8 league matches. They are currently sitting in sixth place having won 3, drawn 2, lost 2 with 10 goals for 10 goals against.
Despite winning the Úrvalsdeild title for the first time in 2014 their league form won’t be of too much interest to Celtic. It is the fact that they will have better match fitness by the time they face Ronny Deila’s side.
As for Celtic, they will be looking to be more convincing in qualifying than they were last year. Despite winning by a 5-0 aggregate score over KR Reykjavík last summer, Celtic were beaten comfortably 6-1 by Legia Warsaw in the round that followed.
It was only the incompetence of the Polish champions fielding an ineligible player that bought Celtic another crack at qualifying for the Champions League. Even that wasn’t enough, as Ronny Deila’s side lost out in the second leg at home 0-1 after completing a respectable 1-1 draw in the first leg away to Maribor.
As disappointing as that was, there was still Europa League football to be had. This was also a much more suited tournament for Celtic at this point as much as it may have been hard to admit at the time.
With a change of manager and a serious modification to the way players trained, ate and slept, the Champions League could have been a total disaster. One year on, I think both Ronny and the players are now ready to field last seasons progress against the best.
I will highlight the fact that Celtic are not the finished article and still require a handful of players to make the team a solid force. These players now have a season under their belts though and have made some headway.
We’re all desperate to hear that music again. There can be no doubt it is what the Celtic family want to be involved in every season.
The challenge is to face the best and match them on the night. Special things can happen on the Champions League nights, especially at Paradise.
A solid qualifying campaign and a few extra signings before deadline day will be most welcome. As the players were back in training today they will be thinking about that.
Before that we will have the chance to see the Bhoy’s in action against FC Den Bosch, FK Dukla Prague and Real Sociedad de Fútbol. All ties are to played at St Mirren Park whilst Celtic Park has some stadium work carried out.
The most important thing is that Celtic will be back at Paradise for any of the home legs in the qualifying rounds. Although it wasn’t the reason behind last years dismal showing, I think many would agree that they’d rather have seen Celtic stage a revival at Celtic Park than Murrayfield.
So now it is down to the Bhoy’s to get stuck in at training and get some practice in these upcoming friendlies. There’s a pot of gold waiting for the club in September but they’ll have to work hard to get there.