Celtic Park tonight will feel a long way from home for AEK players. Glasgow is putting on its best dreich show, looking less like Athens than it should be possible within Europe. The stadium will be packed, something AEK players simply never see at home. The cavernous Olympic Stadium they play in had just shy of 20,000 empty seats when they won their first league title in 24 years. The empty seat count is more commonly around 50,000.
Those of us who lamented the four qualification rounds Celtic must endure are less vocal today. The rigours of competition has made us better prepared for tonight. Both teams are missing injured players, but Celtic are not short in any department. We should be ready.
Irrespective of the environment, AEK are a technically good team who will pose greater challenges than Rosenborg. They are a counterattacking side, who will defend deeply, hoping to shut the game out and steal whatever opportunities they can to break. We cannot allow enthusiasm to attack to blindside us of the practicalities. Respect our opponents’ ability to break and be patient in possession.
It will be late in the game when Celtic should have their greatest fitness advantage. Even if the game is tight at 80 minutes, it could end quite differently.
This is one of the biggest games of the season – answer the call, Celtic.