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Celtic face Estonia’s ‘Invincibles’ – Nomme Kalju – on Wednesday, opponents who surprisingly emerged from their Champions League first qualifying round tie with North Macedonians Shkendija thanks to a late winner away from home.
This appears, on paper at least, to be a kinder draw than last year’s second qualifying round which saw Celtic paired with Rosenborg of Norway.
Kalju are 20 games into their league season with their unbeaten campaign of last term now a distant memory, given it ended last November.
This time, it has been more of a struggle. They lost the cup final in May, sacked their manager a month earlier, their hopes of back-to-back indomitable seasons ended the month before. They currently sit fourth.
Celtic begin this tie as heavy favourites, but there remains a hint of danger. Not least the fact that Kalju, if you discount the cup final played on neutral territory, have not lost away in almost two years.
Who are their players to watch?
Sander Puri: St Mirren fans may remember Puri for an ill-fated spell in Paisley under Danny Lennon six years ago. But, despite possessing a relatively nomadic, low-key club career that has seen him play in Ireland, England, the Czech Republic and his homeland, Puri has been capped 77 times by Estonia.
Liliu: The Brazilian striker had his annus mirabilis in front of goal last season, scoring 31 goals in 30 appearances. He also scored the dramatic winner in the last round. The 29-year-old’s free-scoring goes well beyond last season and he will be the biggest threat to Celtic’s progression.
Peeter Klein: A staple of the Estonian international youth teams, Klein can play up front – his preferred position – or just behind the main striker. He also played an important role in last year’s title triumph and set-up Liliu’s stoppage-time winner in North Macedonia.
Forward Mikey Johnston is fit after missing last week’s win over FK Sarajevo with a thigh strain, having scored in the opening leg.
New signing Christopher Jullien is still building up fitness but could “possibly” feature, says Neil Lennon.
“It’s a slow burner for Chris and the players in front of him are playing pretty well,” he said. “We’re not even halfway through pre-season, so there’s plenty of time for Chris to feature on a regular basis.”
Kieran Tierney and Tom Rogic remain on rehabilitation duties after summer operations but Vakoun Issouf Bayo and Marian Shved have resumed training after knocks.
“We negotiated a tough tie and I’m expecting the same here,” said Lennon. “With the first leg at home it’s not always ideal, but we hope to take a good result over there.”
Celtic will meet Israeli side Maccabi Tel-Aviv or Cluj of Romania in the third qualifying round should they progress.
If Lennon’s side were to lose, they would drop into the Europa League qualifiers against Shkendija of North Macedonia or Luxembourg’s F91 Dudelange.
Can you name Celtic’s top scorers in Champions League qualifying?