They can’t mess this one up from here, surely?
Celtic’s season has been geared up from the very first training session of the summer to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League and with one-and-a-half feet already in Europe’s premier club competition, it would be nothing short of a disaster if Neil Lennon’s side were not in Thursday’s draw.
A 2-0 victory away in Sweden against Helsingborgs last week was the perfect result for Lennon and only a calamity would now see the Bhoys fail to qualify and be relegated to the Europa League, as shown by odds of 1/100 for Celtic to progress.
Leading after just two minutes through a Kris Commons goal, a second-half header from Georgios Samaras has given Celtic a priceless advantage, with the emphasis on the word priceless. Given the club’s finances and general state of the game north of the border, a run in the Champions League is imperative to the club’s immediate future as they come to terms with life without Old Firm rivals Rangers in the Scottish Premier League.
Qualification for the Champions League has never been more important to Celtic and with the promised land in sight, the second leg at Parkhead should be a formality.
This is not to underestimate the Swedes, as they had chances at Olympia last Tuesday and on another day may have registered at least a goal that would have kept their chances alive, but it is surely too big an ask for the visitors. The odds compilers at bwin certainly agree, making Celtic 53/100 favourites to win in 90 minutes, with the draw at 31/10 and Helsingborgs at 19/4.
Of course, even a win might not be enough for the Swedes, who need a two-goal margin to at least force extra-time (a 3-1 win or higher would see them through on away goals) but there is not much in their form to suggest that is on the cards.
Age Hareide’s men have lost their last three games, having been defeated in the Swedish Allsvenskan either side of the first leg. Both of those matches were away from home, a 2-1 defeat to league leaders Elfsborg and a 3-1 reverse at seventh-placed Djurgarden, and their struggles away from home have been a trend for Helsingborgs for some time.
The Swedes have won just four of their last 15 away trips, failing to score on six occasions, and there is little to make you think they are capable of turning this one around. Celtic are generally strong at home in Europe – after all, the Bhoys have lost just four of the previous 29 home games in the Champions League.
Complacency is the only danger for Celtic, but given the importance of qualification, it is unlikely that any will creep in. The fact Celtic do not need to win makes the 53/100 a little short though, so instead go for the 333/100 that the match is a draw at half-time and Celtic go on to win.
Lennon will not send his players out gung-ho, while Hareide will not want to concede an early goal that will definitely put the tie beyond his team. So it could be a tight opening period, but once it opens up in the second half, Celtic can hit Helsingborgs on the break – which they did to very good effect in the second half last week – and eventually prevail with a win.
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