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‘TOUGHEST EURO TEST YET,’ RODGERS

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BRENDAN RODGERS admitted Celtic face their biggest Champions League qualifying test in his Parkhead reign against AEK Athens in the Olympic Stadium this evening.

The Hoops boss has guided the team through two previous campaigns to reach the lucrative group stages.

However, his team are up against it in the Greek capital after being forced to settle for a 1-1 draw in the first third round tie in Glasgow last week.

Rodgers, who confirmed striker Moussa Dembele will start on the bench, said: “No doubt this is arguably the biggest challenge.

“But it is something we relish, something that we have always done.

“We have had a number of these big games. We want to show our true face in terms of the quality we can play, but also the mentality and we look forward to showing that tomorrow.

“Qualification in this competition is obviously very important for us.

“We have done that in the last couple of seasons and the main reason, from a football perspective, is to compete at the highest level of the game. The Champions League is that in European football.

“We have enjoyed our experiences in it and we want that to continue. There is always the threat we may not qualify, but we can’t really think of that.

SO CLOSE…Leigh Griffiths just misses with a header against AEK Athens.

“We are not planning on going out, we are planning on playing well enough to get a good result.

“We played well enough last week and got punished for one mistake, so we have to learn from that and this group has shown in the last couple of years that they can come through that. We are excited about it.”

Dembele has been out since sustaining a hamstring injury in the 3-0 home win over Alashkert in the first qualifying round last month.

Rodgers, without suspended defender Kristoffer Ajer, will not risk starting the French striker.

He said: “It’s a big boost for us. He started the season fantastically well and was unfortunate he got his injury.

“But he has worked very hard to come back and will take his place in the squad. It is probably too much to start, he will take his place on the bench.

“He has looked very fit and strong and the beauty with Moussa, he wants to play, he wants to be involved.

“It is too much of a risk to start but I am sure at some point in the game he will play a part.”

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Acclaimed author Alex Gordon wrote the biography of Scotland international legend Denis Law, entitled 'King and Country'. He is a former columnist with World Soccer magazine and Scottish correspondent of respected European journal L'Equipe.

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