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BACK PAGE BULLETIN: CELTIC ACE’S ‘POINT TO PROVE’, KT BOOST FOR SCOTS, GERS EURO WARNING

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RYAN CHRISTIE is desperate to play his part in helping Celtic to become a football giant in Europe once again.

The stylish playmaker, who was a 58th-minute substitute for Leigh Griffiths in the 2-1 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie yesterday, knows what is at stake against FC Copenhagen in the Danish capital on Thursday with a 5.55pm kick-off.

Christie is confident of a positive result from the first leg of the last-32 Europa League encounter – especially after the historic victory over Lazio in Rome in the Group E qualifying fixture in November.

The Scotland international midfielder, who sat out the first three games of 2020 due to SFA suspension, told the Evening Times: “I can’t wait. It will be a really big tie.We were excited when the draw was made and we then put it to the side for a while.

“It has kind of crept up on us, but everybody is excited to go over there and, hopefully, get a good result to take back to Celtic Park. Everyone is desperate to play in those matches.

“Hopefully, we can go further. We’ve said since the start of the season that we feel we have a point to prove in this competition. The gaffer has touched upon how Celtic needs to be thought of as a European giant of a club and for that to happen you need to have good runs.

“That’s what we are looking to do and go one further than last season.”

A year ago, the Hoops, with Brendan Rodgers in charge before his dramatic switch to Leicester City later in the month, collapsed to a 2-0 loss at home to Valencia with the Spaniards making the most of lamentable defending.

Ironically, only one of the back four who played in Glasgow has a chance of playing in this one – Jozo Simunovic, who missed the Pittodrie triumph with a hamstring strain. Jeremy Toljan returned to Borussia Dortmund when his loan deal expired, Dedryck Boyata joined him in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin when his contract ended and Emilio Izaguirre returned to Honduras.

Toljan was red-carded in the first-half of the second leg in the Mestalla seven days later as the side lost 1-0 to exit the tournament on a 3-0 aggregate.

Christie added: “It was frustrating against Valencia because, although we kind of held our own in the second game, we let ourselves down in the first. We want to do better this time.”

SCOTLAND boss Steve Clarke has received a boost with the news Kieran Tierney is well ahead of schedule in his bid to return to action.

Arsenal confirmed the former Celtic left-back, who cost a Scottish record fee of £25million in the summer, is making good progress as he recovers from the dislocated shoulder he sustained against West Ham on December 9.

The initial return date for he 22-year-old defender was set for mid-march, but now the London club have revealed he should be back in full training by the end of this month.

International gaffer Clarke will welcome the update as he prepares to name his squad for the crucial Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Israel at Hampden on March 26.

The Scots gaffer has been forced to leave the player out of his previous squads due to injuries.

Tierney underwent a double hernia operation in May before his big-money switch to the Gunners. He was also hampered by a thigh problem before his shoulder setback.

RANGERS have been warned they face a Europa League knock-out when they face on-fire Braga at Ibrox on Thursday night.

The Portuguese outfit prepared for the first leg encounter against Steven Gerrard’s men with a 1-0 win over Benfica – their first-ever victory in Lisbon in their history.

Braga have had 63 attempts over 65 years to conquer the former European kings at the Stadium of Light and failed on every occasion until their triumph this weekend.

Midfielder Joao Palhinha headed the winner to silence 50,000 home fans and, in a report in the Scottish Sun, he said: “We deserved it, just as we deserved to beat Porto and Sporting Lisbon before this.

“Now we turn to Europe and we aim to win there, too. We know it will be tough in Glasgow, but we have shown we can cope with anything.”

Braga have won eight out of nine since 35-year-old Ruben Amorim took over as coach three days before Christmas and are now third in the table.

The new boss added: “When it comes to quality, we have nothing on the big three. But we have built a mentality that has put us on the right track.

“To win a game like Saturday night or like the one we face in Glasgow takes more than starlets.

“Right now, Braga feels unstoppable, like we can fight for the title, but everything can change very quickly.”

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Editor

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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