Former Celtic captain Tom Boyd believes the club must qualify for the group stages of the Champions League now there will not be an Old Firm derby at Celtic Park for the foreseeable future.
Celtic, along with Boyd’s other former club Motherwell, both enter the Champions League today when the draw for the third qualifying round is made.
With Motherwell being unseeded they will face a stern test from one of Dynamo Kiev, Fenerbache, FC Copenhagen or Panathinaikos.
Celtic’s draw looks decidedly easier in the domestic champions section.
They could face Ulisses, FC Sheriff, Molde, Ventspils, HJK Helsinki, KR, AEL Limassol, Linfield, Neftci PFK or FC Zestafoni.
Neil Lennon’s side would be confident of overcoming any of the opponents who may await them and Boyd feels that victory is essential – especially since newco Rangers were rejected entry into the Scottish Premier League and are now a Third Division club.
“We have got qualifiers coming up in a few weeks’ time and we have to make sure we qualify for that and get the crowd back again because some of the best nights we have had here at Celtic Park have been on Champions League nights - even better than some of the Old Firm games,” he said.
Celtic have a mixed record in European qualification but Boyd fancies them to progress.
He said: “They have a good chance. I think what has helped them is being seeded.
“With the quality of the squad, if they play to the potential they had last season, they would be good enough to qualify.”
With the first leg of the qualifiers coming ahead of the new season Boyd also feels it can be a disadvantage to face a team from a league whose season is well under way.
“The big problem obviously is that it happens before the start of the season and if you look back over the years it has been a problem for most Scottish teams so we hope we can get a team that are in the same position and not have that little head-start and fitness and game awareness,” he said.
Celtic face Ajax tomorrow in a pre-season friendly that will give Lennon the chance to assess how his squad perform against a Champions League regular.
Meanwhile, Motherwell reached this stage due to the liquidation of Rangers and will be huge underdogs no matter which opponent they are drawn against later today.