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Celtic aim for home ruling over Qarabag in Champions League quest

Celtic can edge even closer to a return to Champions League football with a victory over Azerbaijan Premier League champions Qarabag at Parkhead in the first leg of their third qualifying round encounter.

Ronny Deila’s Bhoys expectedly dominated domestically last season, securing both the Scottish Premiership and League Cup trophies, but exited at the Champions League play-off round to Maribor, before only reaching the Europa League last-32.

Soccer - Scottish Premiership - St Mirren v Celtic - St Mirren Park

The Hoops are 7/1 with Coral to net four or more goals on home soil, but assistant coach John Collins claimed the Scottish giants must earn the right to compete in Europe’s elite club competition once again.

“We know how important the Champions League is – for the whole country – but especially for us,” stated Collins.

“We’ve had success in it before and that’s where we want to be. All the teams want to be in the group stages, we’re no different.

“But we’ve got to earn the right, and to earn the right you’ve got to play well and make sure there’s 100 per cent concentration from the first minute to the last minute.

“That’s key at this level. You can’t switch off. You switch off and most of the time you get punished.”

Soccer - Scottish Premiership - Celtic v Inverness Caledonian Thistle - Celtic Park

The Scottish champions ran out comfortable 6-1 winners over Stjarnan in the last round, but Collins is taking nothing for granted in this unpredictable competition, with Qarabag 6/1 to cause an upset in Glasgow.

“They’re a good football team,” he continued. “They like to pass the ball, [and have] good movement throughout their team.

“[They have] a couple of Brazilians that are very dangerous, one up front, a striker Reynaldo and a midfielder who knows how to pass the ball.

“They’re a good all-round team. I would say definitely a Champions League standard team.

“It’s a step up from our last opponents, a massive step up. We’ll have to play well if we’re to get through but we’re capable of playing well that’s for sure.”

Soccer - Pre-Season Friendly - Celtic v FC Den Bosch - St Mirren Park

Deila could be without Charlie Mulgrew after the midfielder picked up a knock in a friendly against Rennes, and will need to be alert for Qarabag’s Brazilian striker Reynaldo. The 25-year-old was the Azerbaijan Premier League’s top scorer in 2013/14 and is 11/4 to strike anytime, having fired his club to back-to-back league titles last term.

Celtic will have a host of new faces for their latest European encounter, including recent arrival Nadir Ciftci, with the Turkish attacker having been signed from top-flight rivals Dundee United. The clinical frontman is 4/1 to open proceedings, as he looks to make an instant impact in his new surroundings with a maiden goal.

Dedryck Boyata and Saidy Janko are the other new acquisitions hoping to enjoy a strong showing in the heart of the Bhoys rear guard and they are 11/10 to help their side claim a home win to nil.