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Celtic 'can handle Champions League play-off pressure'

Celtic players

Champions League play-off: Celtic v Hapoel Beer Sheva
Date: Wednesday, 17 August Venue: Celtic Park, Glasgow Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

Brendan Rodgers is confident Celtic can cope with the pressure of the Champions League play-off against Hapoel Beer Sheva and reach the group stage.

The Scottish champions host the Israeli side in Wednesday’s first leg.

Celtic have lost at the play-off stage in the last two seasons, consigning them to the Europa League group stage.

“We’re very calm but we understand that there’ll be moments when we have to cope with the pressure, I see no reason why the players can’t,” said Rodgers.

“The last couple of seasons have gone by and you learn from those experiences.”

Rodgers, who replaced Ronny Deila in the summer, has guided Celtic through Champions League qualifiers against Lincoln Red Imps and Astana, while their Premiership and League Cup campaigns have got off to winning starts.

“It’s a new team, a new identity and what we’ve shown over this early part of the season is the ability to deal with pressure,” added the former Liverpool boss.

“You’ve got various checkpoints in your games when you’re asked questions under pressure and I’ve been really pleased with how we’ve coped with that pressure.

“We’re ready to accept the challenge and cope with that. Hopefully the players can take positive experiences into the games, having learned from the past.”

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Hibernian head coach and former Celtic boss Neil Lennon revealed on BBC Radio Scotland on Tuesday that he had told Rodgers: “These are your biggest games of the season.”

And Rodgers said: “Neil and I had a nice meal and many things came up in conversation, he’s been at the club and understands the importance of Champions League football.

“It was nice to hear from his side, he had some wonderful experiences here and we’re hoping that in my time here that we can have similar and create a lot of very good memories for the supporters and the players.

“It would give me extreme pleasure. Just pulling up outside the ground, I sense the buzz. To take the club into the Champions League would be important at this moment.

“I’ll have plenty of time when I retire to reflect on anything I do in the game, but this is very important to us as a football club having not been in it now for a few years. We want to bring the club back to the highest level in European football.”

Striker Leigh Griffiths believes Celtic have learned lessons from previous unsuccessful attempts at Champions League qualification.

The club failed to make the group stages during Ronny Deila’s two-year reign, and Griffiths says the team will not repeat the mistakes they made against Malmo in last season’s Champions League playoff.

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“The boys are still hurting from the last two years but we have drawn a line under that now and we need to go forward,” Griffiths said.

“We spoke about what happened before but they are gone now and obviously we’ve got a different manager now.

“The new manager wants to come in and stamp his own authority over the team.

“It’s up to us players to perform on the park and we know what we have to do.

“We need to tighten up on individual mistakes. That’s what cost us last time. Away from home it was two set-pieces. Two players lost their markers and that cost us two goals.

“At home we were 3-1 up with 30 seconds to go and lost a goal to another corner kick.

“So the gaffer has made sure we realise how dangerous set-pieces can be. “Hopefully it is us who can use them to our advantage and things go for us this time.”

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