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Rodgers backs Celtic ‘fighters’ to be in Champions League beyond Christmas

Date Posted,August 22, 2017

Brendan Rodgers admitted Celtic were on the ropes – but he’s backing his fighters to battle in the Champions League beyond Christmas.

The Hoops boss had to endure a nerve-shredding evening as Astana threatened to do the unthinkable in Kazakhstan.

They clinched their place in Thursday’s draw for the group stage after their 4-3 defeat gave them an 8-4 aggregate win.

But it was far from straight forward as Celts suffered a second half siege and were 4-1 down before Olivier Ntcham and Leigh Griffiths settled the nerves.

Rodgers said: “The first thing was to qualify. It’s a big achievement with the route that we have to take and the games we have to play.

Astana were gifted an own goal opener (Image: REUTERS)

“What we would like to do is try to progress this year and be in European football after Christmas.

“We are coming into the highest level and we are going to play against some fantastic players.

“Players are only going to improve and get better and get better experience.

“If we can then be in European football after Christmas that will be another great step forward for us.

“We look forward to the draw now.”

Scott Sinclair celebrates during the topsy turvy match (Image: REUTERS)

A Kristoffer Ajer own goal gave Astana a first-half lead only for Scott Sinclair’s sublime effort to level on the night and leave the home side needing another six.

But two goals in a minute early in the second half – from Serikzhan Muzhikov and Patrick Twumasi – and another from Twumasi midway through the half made it 4-1 on the night before Ntcham and Griffiths settled Celtic nerves in the final 10 minutes.

Rodgers said: “Across the whole campaign I’ve had midfield players playing centre-half, midfielders playing as strikers, right backs playing centre-half.

“So the players have done absolutely magnificent and it’s another good learning game for us because we would want to be better than that defensively. But it’s a night to celebrate.”

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