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‘NERVE-SHREDDING – BUT IT’S WORTH IT,’ SAYS RODGERS

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BRENDAN RODGERS insists the annual Champions League endurance test is worth the enjoyment of gatecrashing the European elite.

The Celtic boss and his players stepped onto the £30million tightrope again in Kazakhstan on Tuesday when, protecting a 5-0 first leg lead, they found themselves a remarkable 4-1 down on the night.

Thankfully, Olivier Ntcham and Leigh Griffiths claimed late goals to ease the anxiety before the Hoops progressed to tonight’s group stages ballot on an 8-4 aggregate.

The Astana performance was compared to last season’s play-off against Hapoel Be’er Sheva when the champions went to Israel with a 5-2 advantage and went down 2-0 before edging through by a goal.

Rodgers said: “It’s an annual thing. Thankfully, this year we only had a 25-minute block to get through.

“I will take 25 minutes like we had in this game over the course of a qualifying campaign if the end result is us getting through. That’s an absolutely brilliant achievement.

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“We know we need to be better and what we have to work on. You all see how hard it is to qualify.

“Not many people know of Astana, but they have invested a lot of money and coming here can be difficult in terms of travel.

“Our club hadn’t been in the Champions League for a while. We found a way last year and we found a better way this year. And there has been an improvement.”

Celtic’s qualification task wasn’t made any easier going into a crucial confrontation without three key central defenders in Jozo Simunovic, Dedryck Boyata and Erik Sviatchenko.

And the firepower of Moussa Dembele, the scorer of 32 goals in the previous campaign, was missing, too.

Rodgers added: “You can shine a torch into every single side and pick up issues, but we have come through this qualification well.

“We know we need that extra bit of quality, but I still want to work with these players to make them better.

“We have young players and at times when the momentum goes from you it can all become a bit of a blur.

“You saw it with PSG against Barcelona last year – and that’s with guys who are on £300,000 a week!

“That scenario didn’t go through my mind – I had to be clear. The players deserve a huge amount of credit for swinging the momentum back round in their favour and getting goals.

“We lost the game and I wanted the performance to be better. We started well and had good control, but it’s a learning night for our team exposed to that sort of pressure.

“I’m very proud of them.”

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MEMORY LANE…On this day in 1968, Celtic beat Rangers 1-0 in a League Cup match thanks to a goal from Willie Wallace.

NEW CQN PODCAST – PAUL DYKES PRESENTS WITH FORMER CELTIC CAPTAIN ANDY LYNCH AND SPECIAL GUEST PAT STANTON

 
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