Celtic vs AEK Athens preview, betting tips and prediction: A home victory will be crucial to Celtic’s progress in the Champions League
Team to Win
Celtic negotiated their way through a potentially tricky tie at Rosenborg in the last Champions League qualifying round in a masterful fashion, grinding out a dull goalless draw. That dogged approach sapped their opponents of spirit and inspiration and ensured that progress was secured.
It was never a foregone conclusion considering how poorly Celtic have travelled in Europe in recent seasons – this was the 27th European away game they had failed to win since the start of the 2013/14 season. And yet those seasons have brought modest reward and it’s in large part thanks to the atmosphere they create inside the fortress known as Celtic Park. If they are to get through against AEK Athens then it will almost certainly be on the back of a positive result at home. It is essential ahead of a traditionally tough tie in Greece.
AEK, champions of the Greek Superleague last term, will pose a bigger threat than Rosenborg did. Their title win was built on the back of an exceptionally strong defense – they conceded only 12 goals in their 30 fixtures – that Celtic will struggle to break down. Their top scorer, Sergio Araujo, has returned to his parent club Las Palmas after a successful spell in Greece. His 21 goals in all competitions were crucial to AEK’s success. They were incredibly close to completing a domestic double, losing the Greek Cup final 2-0 to PAOK.
Olivier Ntcham is a doubt for the game after picking up an ankle injury in Celtic’s 3-1 opening day victory over newly-promoted SPL side Livingston over the weekend. Both the player and Rodgers are confident that he’ll be fit for the crucial tie. Moussa Dembele also has a question mark over his fitness. Mikael Lustig is back available after performing heroics for Sweden at the World Cup.
Both Dmitry Tsigrinski and Yorgas Yanutsos are long-term absentees for AEK. A fresher worry will be the injury that befell star striker Ezequiel Ponce on the training ground. The Argentina U20 striker, on loan from AS Roma, received a cut to his face and had to have several stitches. He may take to the field sporting a protective face mask.