Celtic manager Gordon Strachan is tipping a trio of “special” players to provide the creativity in his side’s opening Group E meeting with AaB tonight.
With his team having won all six of their home games in their previous two group stages, the Celtic manager believes this match, and his club’s fate in Europe’s premier competition, will be decided by an individual’s ability to transcend the mundane.
“When you look at most games in the Champions League, the very highest level, they’re decided by moments of magic from top players,” Strachan said. “Last season, when Barcelona came here, Messi turned up and made the result the one he wanted. He beat players, scored goals and took an already good side to another level. In Shunsuke [Nakamura], Aiden [McGeady] and Shaun [Maloney], we have special players who can do that. When they’re at their best they can be decisive and hopefully they will play well.”
With Dutch international striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and midfielder Paul Hartley, both declared fit, Strachan confirmed he has a full-strength squad to choose from.
“Jan’s fine,” he said. “He missed training this morning as his wife has just had a baby, but he was the only one who wasn’t available. Paul Hartley, who didn’t play at the weekend due to a neck problem, is also fit so overall we’re in good shape.”
With his side languishing in ninth place in the Danish Superligaen, AaB coach Bruce Rioch said he understands why his players may have let their domestic form suffer as Champions League action loomed on the horizon.
“When the draw was made, my assistant was adamant I shouldn’t speak to the players about it because we still had domestic matches to play,” said Rioch. “But that’s impossible. The Champions League is just so big. Realistically we know it will be very tough for us, but our target is third place.
“As far as I’m concerned, the team have already achieved so much just to reach the group stage – it’s marvellous. Not to say we won’t give our all, but anything we can get will be a huge bonus.”
Rioch revealed that his knowledge of his Celtic counterpart Strachan goes back more than 20 years.
“I tried to sign Gordon when I was manager of Middlesbrough,” Rioch added. “He was a terrific player and he has become a top coach. I always say there are two cornerstones of success in any field – hard work and enthusiasm. Gordon has both.”