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Champions League place main objective for Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers knows he is within touching distance of his first main goal as Celtic manager ahead of the Champions League play-off second leg at Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

The Scottish champions overcame a second-half wobble to close out a thrilling 5-2 victory in last week’s initial encounter at Parkhead, taking a significant step towards a first appearance in the group stages of Europe’s premier competition since 2013.

Rodgers was installed as Ronny Deila’s successor in May and the former Liverpool boss has had his sights trained on progress to the Champions League proper ever since.

“It has been our number one objective from the first day we started,” he said.

“We spoke about it as a team and a squad. We looked at various goals and targets throughout the season and to make the Champions League was clearly one of those as it was one of the first that would come across us.

“So to lead Celtic into the Champions League would be a great honour and privilege. I know the managers before me who I spoke to said their first qualifying campaign was difficult for them, but for us we have put in an awful lot of work and we have two hands on the prize and a tight grip on it as well.

“We need to make sure we maintain that grip and hopefully then the supporters and people can be proud, but we still know there’s a bit of work to do.”

Celtic overwhelmed their Israeli opponents during the opening 45 minutes in Glasgow, with Leigh Griffiths netting an impressive brace after Tom Rogic dispatched an early opener.

But Hapoel showed their prowess as Lucio Maranhao and Maor Melikson threatened to turn the tie on its head with two goals in the space of three minutes.

The hosts stayed true to their manager’s attacking principles and Moussa Dembele and Scott Brown made the game safe, but Rodgers saw enough of a threat from Barak Bakhar’s side to retain a degree of caution.

“We did the job in the first-leg and the responsibility is now with us and that’s how you would want it,” he said.

“You see a lot of the games across Europe which will be tough and tight, but there’s a three goal-difference in this game. It will still be a tough game for us, but thankfully it’s our responsibility.

“We worked very hard in the last game and the quality of our game has got us into this position, so that gives us great confidence.

“We will always respect our opponents, but we know we’re in a good moment.”

Mon 22 Aug, 2016
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