Celtic to learn Champions League opponents tonight

By David Walton

July 16, 2019

Celtic will today learn their probable opponents in the second qualifying round of the Champions League today.

Nomme Kalju or Shkendija await in the next qualifier. Celtic are already 3-1 up on Bosnian champions Sarajevo in their own tie. It’s unthinkable that tomorrow night Sarajevo come to Parkhead and win by three goals. So forgive us for now thinking it safe to look ahead to the next round.

Neither Kalju nor Shkendija can boast such comfort tonight, however. The Macedonians took a 1-0 win from Estonia last week. But, in fairness to Kalju, it took a late Angim Ibraimi penalty to give their opponents the advantage.

Shkendija will be looking to defend their first-leg lead tonight (Ole Martin Wold/AFP/Getty Images)

Their second-leg tie kicks off this afternoon at 4pm (Celtic Park time). The winners have a shot at glory against Neil Lennon’s Celts, who’ve started their own pre-season preparations in fine form.

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No matter who wins tonight, it will be a first for the Hoops believe it or not. Celtic haven’t just never faced either side in Europe, but they’ve also never been to Macedonia or Estonia in competitive competition. Just like Bosnia, it’ll be a total first for the club.

Second qualifying round is no gimme

Yes, Celtic should qualify regardless of who we draw. But we’ve all see enough European away-day disasters to know nothing is certain in this competition.

It’s difficult to say which one we should prefer in the draw. If you’re going by match-fitness, then perhaps Shkendija would be the preferred opposition. The Macedonian First Division doesn’t start until next month. The Meistriliiga, aka the Estonian Premier League, has already played 19 rounds, with Kalju sitting in fourth place.

Celtic Park awaits the winners tonight (Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

But even if Shkendija hold onto their advantage and get through, they’ll be just about there in terms of match sharpness. They’ve already played five matches since returning to their own pre-season schedule.

In terms of both sides’ records in Europe, they have next to nothing to brag about if we’re being brutally honest. This is only Shkendija’s third appearance in the Champions League qualifiers. They’ve never made it past the third round.

Neil Lennon will be keeping an eye on tonight’s result (Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

As for Kalju, this is just their second appearance in the Champions League qualifiers. Just like their opponents, they’ve never gotten past the third qualifying round. Their only attempt ended in a 10-2 aggregate loss to Viktoria Plzen.

Of course, that’s no reason to dismiss both. As said before, it doesn’t take much for European shock to occur. But there were certainly harder ties to get in the next round, and Celtic have to take advantage, whoever they play next.