Alashkert v Celtic: Armenians out to halt Rodgers' Champions League charge

Artur Yedigaryan in action for Armenia against Denmark
Alashkert captain Artur Yedigaryan won 42 caps for Armenia
Champions League first qualifying round: Alashkert v Celtic
Venue: Republican Stadium, Yerevan Date: Tuesday, 10 July Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Scotland, text & radio updates via BBC Sport Scotland website

Captain Artur Yedigaryan insists Alashkert can end Celtic's hopes of reaching the Champions League group stage at the first hurdle.

Brendan Rodgers and his players are in white-hot Armenia to take on the country's champions in the opening qualifying round with temperatures likely to rise above 30C when the crucial first leg kicks off on Tuesday.

For the first time, Celtic face a marathon journey of four ties and eight matches to get to the group stage due to format changes to the competition.

Their voyage begins in Yerevan as the Scottish champions pay a maiden visit to Armenia.

Former international midfielder Yedigaryan and his team-mates believe they can end Rodgers' bid for a third straight campaign in the competition outright.

"Celtic is a strong opponent with big history but FC Alashkert wants to go as far as possible in the Champions League" he told BBC Scotland.

"We have a good team and like to play attacking football, especially at home. We'll be confident about this tie and do our best to bring joy to our fans.

"We always enter the pitch with belief and nothing is impossible."

Yedigaryan - whose brother is also at the club - is one of the more experienced members of an Alashkert squad that is much-changed from the one that defeated St Johnstone in their first-ever European match three years ago.

Alashkert players celebrate a goal against St Johnstone
Alashkert overcame St Johnstone in the Europa League qualifiers of 2015

The man who scored their winner in the celebrated 1-0 first leg victory, Mihran Manasyan, remains in the team, however, and has been top scorer three times in the Armenian top flight, which has just been extended from just six to 10 teams.

Since then the club, which was resurrected in 2011 having gone under at the turn of the century, has won all three Armenian titles and the 31-year-old has been central to that success.

Despite winning the league again last season, they lost the Armenian Cup final on penalties.

But, it is in European competition that they want progress with manager Varuzhan Sukiasyan bringing a host of new players to the club in the last week.

Alashkert's short European history does not make for night-before insomnia for Rodgers given they have yet to make it past the second qualifying round of either the Champions League or Europa League.

Varuzhan Sukiasyan in the Armenia dugout
Varuzhan Sukiasyan has had two spells in charge of the Armenian national team

However, they have only lost once in six home legs, to former group stage battlers BATE Borisov a year ago, and have scored in all those matches. That win over Tommy Wright's Saints was the opening chapter of a story they hope will continue with another Scottish scalp.

"Nowadays, many teams are close to each other with their level and many sensations can take place as has been proved before," Yedigaryan continued.

"It's very hot in Yerevan so it's difficult for any visiting team, only the game will give all the answers.

"We have a good squad with new players, it's changing very often just now but that is a normal process.

"We hope the newcomers will help us become stronger."

A potential positive for Celtic is that the match, like the one against Saints in 2015, has been moved from Alashkert's less-than-welcoming home ground in the capital to the much larger national stadium which has a capacity of around 15,000.

The hosts are attempting to fill it by giving away tickets to allow for a more vocal home support - an understandable move since an extremely sparse crowd watched them lose the cup final there in May.

Celtic beat Linfield over two legs in 2017
Celtic began last season's qualifying campaign with a comfortable two-legged victory over Linfield

It's unlikely former Armenia coach Sukiasyan's new signings, who hail from as far and wide as Brazil, Mexico and Serbia, will feature prominently in the first leg with the rest of the squad just back from a training camp and a succession of friendlies in Belarus in preparation for Celtic.

It is far from Celtic's most daunting European assignment here in the Southern Caucasus, particularly given they have become emboldened by back-to-back qualifying successes under Rodgers.

However, amidst the backdrop of the business end of the World Cup in Russia, they will be desperate not to be caught cold at the earliest stage of the Champions League in baking temperatures by a team that, it would appear, have ambitions above their station.