By: Scott McGlynn
Scottish champions Celtic begin their Champions League qualifying campaign on Wednesday with the first leg of their tie against Icelandic champions Stjarnan at Celtic Park. After failing last season to negotiate the qualifying rounds, Ronny Deila and his players are looking to reach the Champions League group stages for the first time since 2013.
Celtic go into the match in the middle of their pre season preparations with a 1-0 defeat of Real Sociedad in a friendly game on Friday night being the perfect warm-up for Wednesday’s game. Celtic won the Scottish Premier League by 17 points last season and have been regulars in European football since the 1960’s. In 1967 they became the first British, and as yet the only Scottish club, to lift the European Cup. In more recent times, they reached the final of the 2003 Uefa Cup where they suffered a 3-2 defeat extra-time to Jose Mourinho’s Porto. Celtic have reached the last 16 of the Champions League on three occasions, the most recent of which was in season 2012-13 where they lost over two-legs to Italian side Juventus. Manager Ronny Deila has made three signings in the transfer window so far, bringing in striker Nadir Çiftçi from Dundee United and defenders Dedryck Boyata from Manchester City, and Saidy Janko from Manchester United. All three may well play a part in Wednesday’s first-leg as Celtic look to establish a lead to take to Iceland for the second-leg in a weeks time.
Stjarnan won their first ever Icelandic title in 2014 to see them enter the Champions League for the first time. Based in Garoabaer, a town near the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, Stjarnan play in the 1,000 capacity stadium Samsungvollur. In recent years the club have become famous for their elaborate goal celebrations, with a number of them going viral on sites such as YouTube. At the mid way stage in the 2015 Icelandic league, Stjajrnan sit in sixth place on fifteen points, nine points behind current leaders FH. Although a first foray into the Champions League, Stjarnan do have European experience having reached the play-off round for last season’s Europa League where the eventually succumbed to Italian giants Inter Milan. Last seasons run included victory over Motherwell so the Icelandic team will be fully aware of what to expect from a Scottish team. Stjarnan do have a number of current and ex Icelandic internationalists in their squad and they will require strong performances from them all if they are to trouble Celtic over two-legs.
The bookmakers see Wednesday’s first leg being a one-sided affair. Celtic are 1.08 (1/12) to win with the draw at 11 (10/1) and Stjarnan available at 29 (28/1).