Celtic must summon spirit of 2003 against AEK Athens in Champions League

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland
Marios Oikonomou tackles Callum McGregor during AEK Athens' 1-1 draw with Celtic
Celtic have an awkward hurdle to overcome in their Champions League qualifying campaign
Champions League qualifying: AEK Athens v Celtic
Venue: Olympic Stadium, Athens Date: Tuesday, 14 August Kick-off: 19:00 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

It's been a turbulent six days in the, up to now, striking Celtic reign of Brendan Rodgers.

The abstruse conflict that has gathered around the club's transfer dealings in the days since John McGinn chose Villa Park instead of Celtic Park when leaving Hibernian has signalled headlines that seemed a long way off when Scott Brown hoisted the Scottish Cup in May to ring in a second successive Treble.

Throw into the mix a seemingly on-strike Dedryck Boyata - the defender has not travelled to Greece after Celtic rejected a transfer bid from Fulham - and an earliest league defeat in more than a decade and Scotland's champions have problems to solve.

That is to say nothing about their most pressing issue of all - their Champions League aspirations sitting uncomfortably on the line.

To progress, Celtic will need to win a two-legged European tie following a 1-1 home leg for only the third time in their history.

Chief signing target McGinn's move to Aston Villa was confirmed just before kick-off as Celtic crossed swords with Greek champions AEK Athens on Wednesday.

Yet the early signs were more than promising as they threatened to blow AEK away during a breathtaking, whirlwind start full of the kind of style and panache with which Hapoel Beersheva and Astana could not live with in similar Champions League qualifiers.

For 44 minutes, Celtic were everything Rodgers wants them to be.

Then Viktor Klonaridis set the tone for a week to forget for the manager. The Greek attacker smashing home an away goal that leaves the tie firmly in the melting pot.

Forty-six minutes of toil ensued, a lot of it against 10 men, and 1-1 after a home first leg is a precarious position to be in.

Indeed, only six times out of 27 has a Scottish side progressed after that opening-leg outcome.

There are two nights that Celtic will have to summon up the spirit of if they are to maintain ambitions of making it a third straight campaign in the group stage of Europe's premier competition.

They both came in subsequent rounds during the club's run to the 2003 Uefa Cup final in Seville.

Former Celtic manager Martin O'Neill cried, "there's no need for disappointment, we're still in the tie," in the wake of their 1-1 home draw with Liverpool in the quarter-finals.

Emile Heskey had cancelled out a Henrik Larsson opener on the night to put Gerard Houllier's side in the driving seat.

Henrik Larsson scores for Celtic against Liverpool in 2003
Larsson gave Celtic an early lead against Liverpool, but they were pegged back in Glasgow

However, O'Neill's team deservedly put current Rangers manager Steven Gerrard and his Liverpool team to the sword on their own patch to reach the last four thanks to Alan Thompson and John Hartson's memorable salvo.

The draw put Celtic up against Portuguese side Boavista and, once again, they had to make do with a first-leg 1-1 draw at home.

Joos Valgaeren's own goal was cancelled out by Larsson again, but the Swede would also miss a penalty.

He made up for it in Porto with the goal that ended a 33-year wait for an appearance in a European final before Porto themselves ended their dreams.

It's not the same dream for Celtic on this occasion, but elimination in the third qualifying round would represent an indisputable downturn in fortune since Rodgers took the helm and set such a good yardstick.

While the Northern Irishman has cured plenty of the club's ills away from home in Europe - victories at Rosenborg and Anderlecht last season and draws in Monchengladbach and against Manchester City the year before are testament to that - there have been warnings about what could lie ahead in the Greek capital.

A 5-2 lead over Beersheva was almost overturned in an away second leg. Craig Gordon's penalty save in Israel prevented that.

Even Astana, from 5-0 down last term, caused one or two nervy moments on the aggregate scoreline - they got back to within two at one point.

Celtic may have to win in Athens to go through against a side that has not lost in nine European games and who have only lost twice at home in 25 matches.

If Rodgers is to avoid further turbulence, the legendary performances on Merseryside and Portugal's Atlantic coast will likely have to be replicated.

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