Celtic can get rub of the green against Maribor
Celtic, 7/5 to defeat Slovenian champions Maribor in this first leg encounter, will be hoping for more of the same, after enjoying a significant slice of luck to progress to the Champions League play-off round.
The Hoops had their European hopes dashed, as they seemingly crashed out of the competition to Legia Warsaw, but the Polish outfit had accidentally fielded the illegible Bartosz Bereszynski, and subsequently found themselves eliminated.
After Legia’s appeals failed, Celtic now have a second chance to prove their worth and earn a spot in the group stage, as they prepare to meet Maribor.
Ronny Deila’s side will be without right back Matthew Adams and rapid winger James Forrest, who was unluckily injured in the last minutes of the Bhoys’ swashbuckling 6-1 victory over Dundee United.
Skipper Scott Brown will also continue to be absent, but assistant coach John Collins gave an optimistic update on his status, saying: “Scott is probably about four weeks away, but he is now back running.”
In happier news for the Hoops, Deila will be able to select a fresh face in wideman Derk Boerrigter, who is currently serving a Scottish Premier League ban, but will be free to play in Slovenia.
There could also be another new loan signing in the pipeline, with Rubin Kazan winger Wakaso Murabek expected to join imminently. The Ghana World Cup star made two appearances in Brazil, and had a 73.3 per cent pass completion rate, converting 50 per cent of his attempted crosses.
The Hoops and Deila face a race against time to register the wideman, though, if he is to aid their Champions League cause.
In Celtic’s last competitive outing against the Tangerines, new Bhoy Jason Denayer opened the scoring, whilst fellow fresh face and midfield maestro Jo Inge Berget bagged a brace, and is now 33/1 to improve on that and hit a hat-trick against European minnows Maribor.
Last season’s prolific pair Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes netted 46 league goals between them, and the dangerous duo are 7/1 and 8/1 to score two or more respectively in this European outing.
Ante Simundza’s team are unlikely to roll over without a fight, though, having vanquished the likes of Zrinjski Mostar and Maccabi Tel-Aviv to clinch the opportunity for further Champions League football.
Sporting director Zlatko Zahovic certainly seemed bullish about his side’s chances of reaching the group stage for the first time in 15 seasons.
Speaking ahead of the clash, the former Porto star stated: “If we go into the match humbly and modestly, we have a lot of options. I am a great optimist.
“It is important we prepare properly because an epic duel awaits us.”
The Slovenian side also have a secret weapon up their sleeve in the form of Macedonia winger Agim Ibriami, who spent last term on loan at Cagliari.
Celtic will be all too familiar with the 25-year-old if Maribor are to be believed, as the Slovenian side claim they fought off competition from the Hoops to tie tricky Ibraimi to a new deal.
Brazil-born skipper and club top scorer Marcos Taveres is 9/1 to put two or more past the Scottish Champions, whilst fearsome French forward Jean-Philippe Mendy is also available at 6/1 to fire in first for the home team.
New Celtic stopper Craig Gordon will make his Champions League bow for the club, and his confidence could be key, after the Hoops sold England World Cup keeper Fraser Forster to Southampton.
The Bhoys enjoyed an unbeaten streak of 26 league games last term, with a 2-1 defeat to Aberdeen their largest margin of error, and will need former Sunderland goalie Gordon to be on top form if they are to make headway in Europe.
Celtic reportedly raised around £10m from the wantaway Forster, but fans have yet to see the money reinvested, with the Hoops seemingly keen on securing loan deals. So far they appear to have paid off, with English Premier League loanees Beget (Cardiff City) and Denayer (Manchester City) already having made an impact.
Now the Hoops will be hoping they can make amends and extend their European adventure. Despite the Bhoys’ unbeaten and impressive start to the new season, their European form has not matched up to the domestic escapades, after they suffered a humiliating 6-1 aggregate defeat to Legia.
Although they now have a reprieve, it could well be brief, with Maribor 15/8 to claim the first leg spoils or 23/10 to secure a draw.