Celtic’s Belfast visit now set for July 14

Celtic’s potential powder-keg Champions League qualifier with Northern Irish champions Linfield in Belfast now looks set to take place on July 14.

The Parkhead giants will kick off their bid to reach the group stage next month and will face the winners of the Blues’ first-round qualifying clash with San Marino minnows La Fiorita.

But the usual Tuesday/Wednesday slot set aside by Uefa for the first-leg clash with Linfield — should they progress - on July 11 or 12 - key dates in annual Orange celebrations — would have seen Celtic’s large travelling support heading to Windsor Park at the height of the marching season, sparking fears of trouble.

Now, however, after talks between the governing body, the clubs, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the game is set to go ahead on Friday, July 14.

Police are understood to have ruled out the match taking place on either the 11th or 12th amid concerns tensions could erupt between the Hoops fans and Linfield’s loyalist faithful.

A possible solution to the dilemma would have been to switch the ties, with Celtic hosting the opener in Glasgow before crossing the Irish Sea for the return a week later.

Linfield dismissed that possibility as they look to cash in on the right to host the all-important first leg.

Meanwhile, Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers thinks his Invincibles line-up is set to get even stronger this term.

The Northern Irishman masterminded last term’s stunning undefeated campaign as the Hoops wrapped up their sixth straight title and a domestic treble.

But in an ominous warning to his Premiership rivals, Rodgers believes his young talents like Kieran Tierney, Stuart Armstrong, and Moussa Demeble will only get better with age.

Rodgers — who is also hoping to use some of the £30m (€34m) banked from last season’s Champions League run to further improve his group — told CelticTV: “I think there is still great growth in the players we already have.

“Some of our players are still young. Our average age of the team is 25, so that tells you there are still a good few years of development in the squad itself.

“Now we have a defined way of playing, the confidence and quality of that can only increase.”

Rodgers also declared his side are ready to hit the ground running after their short summer break.

“It’s been three weeks since the Scottish Cup final and the time goes very fast,” admitted the former Liverpool manager. “But we’ve had enough time to reflect and enjoy what was an historic season. I suppose the main difference I’ve found having had just a short break is that it feels like it’s the same season.

“Down in England you finish then have five or six weeks off and it feels like a new season.

“But for us, the momentum hasn’t really been broken. The guys have had a deserved rest and have come back in. Looking at the first few days, the level that they are at, when I compare it last season, is day and night difference.”


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