Celtic braced for 'raw' Kazakh play-off clash
Celtic manager Neil Lennon is expecting a "raw, roll the sleeves up and dig in" encounter against Kazakhstan champions Shakhter Karagandy in the first leg of their crucial Champions League play-off in Astana tonight.
The Hoops have made the 5,000-kilometre trip to central Asia to take on a side that have the lowest co-efficient they could have been drawn against in this round with a place in the lucrative group stage of Europe's elite competition at stake.
Yet the Scottish champions know they will need to be wary of a side that have won back-to-back league titles.
Celtic boss Lennon admits he knew little of the Kazakhstan side before the draw but, with millions in prize money at stake, insists his side will be well prepared before they take to the pitch in Astana.
"It hasn't been too hard to do research. We've got decent footage of them from an earlier qualifier and some from league games as well," Lennon said.
"The most important thing is trying to do as much preparation as we can. But it will be raw, I think, looking at the way they play. It will be physical.
"It'll be a different type of football - I don't think it'll be frills or thrills. It'll be a bit of roll the sleeves up and dig in at times. But I'm still expecting my footballers to get on the ball and play when we can."
Arsenal and AC Milan face daunting dates in mid-week as 20 teams chase the 10 remaining places in the world's most lucrative club competition.
Arsenal, runners-up in 2006, have a series of fitness worries ahead of their tricky trip to Istanbul to face Fenerbahce tomorrow.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs both went off injured in the first half of their 3-1 home defeat by Aston Villa on Saturday while right back Bacary Sagna also had to be replaced after falling awkwardly on the back of his neck late on.
It will be a baptism of fire for AC Milan as the Italians start their season with a trip to PSV Eindhoven tonight.
While the Dutch outfit have already played five matches, including the Champions League third qualifying round in which they thumped Belgians Zulte-Waregem 5-0 on aggregate, Milan have yet to take to the field competitively as Italy's Serie A does not kick off until this coming weekend.
Elsewhere, Schalke 04 will face Greek side PAOK, who replaced their original opponents Metalist Kharkiv, with the Ukrainians having been banned for match-fixing in their homeland.
Portugal's Pacos Ferreira are hoping to qualify for the group stage for the first time as they take on Russian team Zenit St Petersburg, the 2008 Europa League winners.
Bulgarians Ludogorets Razgrad are also looking for a debut group stage appearance as they host Basel.