Uefa were kind to Celtic with the Champions League first qualification round groupings. None of the five teams we could be drawn against this afternoon are in the teams we definitely did not want to draw.
Valletta lost the corresponding first round game last season to Albanian champions, Kukesi, before dropping to the Europa League and losing to Zrinjski Mostar.
FK Sarajevo beat Armenians Banants Yerevan in last year’s Europa before a bizarre second round tie against Atalanta. The first leg in Italy saw the Bosnians come from two goals down to draw the game and threaten a shock, but Atalanta made the most of the additional week’s fitness to win the second leg 0-8. There should be no real threat from Sarajevo but there’s a lesson here on what happens when a team is not fit enough for competitive football.
Montenegrins Sutjeska Niksic lost their Champions league first round Astana, who Celtic beat in an unusual 2017 tie, before losing to Armenians Alashkert in the Europa, who Celtic beat 3-0 home and away last season.
Some of you will remember Partizani Tirana from our 1979 European Cup tie. Celtic were 1-0 down from the away leg, then Partizani opened the scoring at Celtic Park, but this game is fondly remembered for a socks-down Davie Provan grabbing hold of the occasion. Celtic scored four before the break and eased into the quarter-finals, where Real Madrid awaited.
This will be Georgians Saburtalo Tbilisi’s first season in European competition. They are, by any measure, a tiny football club, but bankrolled to a position of domestic prominence. Formed 14 years ago, they won the league last season, their first major trophy.
This round could have seen us drawn against Polish champions Piast Gliwice, who shot to prominence and won the league for the first time last season, earning a status which has yet to benefit their Uefa coefficient.
We can be confident of getting through this round – and grateful for the competitive games, before the tougher challenges that lie ahead in the second qualification round, which is also drawn today.