PARIS, August 17 – Celtic and Arsenal will battle for a place in the lucrative Champions League group stages on Tuesday in a mouthwatering play-off clash.
Both teams are among the 20 who will be hoping to emerge victorious from a two-leg tie which will allow them to join the 22 automatic qualifiers in the group stage, the draw for which will be held in just over a fortnight.
Scottish Premier League runners-up Celtic warmed up for the hosting of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal at Parkhead by beating Aberdeen away 3-1 on Saturday while Wenger’s men hammered Everton 6-1 in their Premier League opener in Liverpool.
Arsenal go into Tuesday’s clash as the overriding favourites.
And, having experienced their ruthless efficiency at close hand, Everton manager David Moyes suggested Celtic will have to perform formidably at the back as well as up front if they are to limit the damage.
"Arsenal have got a real capability of scoring on the counter attack," said the Scot.
"Every time we had a shot at goal and we let it go from the goalkeeper’s arms, they nearly scored at the other end. I was nearly hoping that more shots were going to fly past the post."
Celtic’s new manager Tony Mowbray has seen his side show their character at this early stage of the season.
The Hoops fought back from a 1-0 first leg defeat at home in the third round of qualifying to beat Dynamo Moscow 2-0 in Russia, a result which secured their place in the play-off.
Celtic striker Aiden McGeady, who grabbed a brace on Saturday, admits it will be a tough 90 minutes but he believes the hosts should face Spanish ace Cesc Fabregas and co. with plenty of faith in their abilities.
"We know we are the underdogs and they are obviously the favourites but they are definitely beatable," the Republic of Ireland midfielder said.
"A lot of teams in the Premier League beat them last season by getting in and around them and not letting them play and that’s something we have to do on Tuesday night."
Sporting Lisbon, who finished runners-up in Portugal last season, will be looking to be more prolific at home if they are to achieve their aim of appearing in the group stages for a sixth time.
In the first leg of their qualifying round Paulo Bento’s side advanced on the away goals rule after a 1-1 draw with Dutch side FC Twente, who had held the Portuguese to a scoreless draw in Lisbon.
VfB Stuttgart are aiming for their third appearance in the group stage but will do so against Champions League newcomers Timisoara of Romania without midfielder Martin Lanig.
He suffered cruciate ligament damage to his right knee in the 4-2 Bundesliga victory against SC Freiburg on Saturday, joining defender Christian Trasch on the injury sidelines after he broke a wrist last week.
Greek side Olympiakos will travel to Sheriff in Moldova in determined mood having failed to reach the group stages last season after being ousted by Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta.
Olympiakos are now coached by Anorthosis’s former coach Temuri Ketsbaia.
Having taken Anorthosis to the Champions League group stages last year where they finished bottom of Group B, Ketsbaia may look on with a little interest when another Cypriot team, Apoel FC, travel to Denmark to face FC Copenhagen.
Celtic (SCO) v Arsenal (ENG)
Sporting Lisbon (POR) v Fiorentina (ITA)
Timisoara (ROM) v Stuttgart (GER)
Sheriff (MDA) v Olympiakos (GRE)
Copenhagen (DEN) v Apoel (CYP)