If it’s a choice between a trip to Macedonia or Azerbaijan, Celtic would doubtlessly prefer the former. Baku, where Azerbaijani club Qarabag reside, is not as far west as Astana, where Celtic played two years ago, but it’s east of Iraq and it’s not a city which appears in many tourist lists.
Rudar Pljevlja returned from Baku midweek with a 0-0 draw. In days gone by that was regarded as a great away European result, but the lack of away goal will much of the second leg is played on a knife-edge.
One large note of caution, Qarabag went out of Europe last season by a one goal aggregate margin to Red Bull Salzburg, who lost in Baku, but won in Glasgow a few months later. They have twice eliminated Polish opposition in the last five years.
My hunch is that Celtic are better than each potential opponent, but if we’re short of fitness or preparation, we’ll have more trouble than we want.
The good news is that neither club plays summer football, so they should be no better prepared that Celtic. Rudar finished competitively in May, Qarabag a week later, while both played their first competitive games of the season on Wednesday. From what I can tell, both also play on grass, so we’ll avoid the Scandinavian bounce.
Before concerning ourselves too much with the 3rd Champions League qualifying round we need to use today’s game against La Liga side Eibar to sharpen fitness, and take care of business in Iceland on Wednesday.