Linfield v Celtic Betting Preview : A politically charged clash in Belfast
Event Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast, Kick off at 5PM Friday 14th July. Live on Premier Sports.See Stats
The early stages of the Champions League qualifiers usually pit British representatives against sides from far flung reaches of Eastern Europe. However the draw for this second qualifying round through up a potentially explosive encounter. Celtic were drawn to play Linfield, the Northern Irish champions, who draw a majority of their support from Belfast's protestant community. Celtic are the clear favourites but will they be able to cope with what promises to be an intimidating atmosphere? Our preview looks ahead to Friday night's game.
The background story
Whilst not overly important with regards to who will be the favourite for this game or to the on field issues, it's worth grasping the context in which this game is being played. As earlier mentioned, Linfield are seen as the club in Belfast supported by the loyalist/Protestant community and therefore it's safe to say they don't have a particularly high opinion of Celtic. Although attitudes are slowly changing, there remains a feeling of divide in Northern Ireland and a game between Linfield and Celtic is likely to only put the relationship between the two communities under the spotlight. The game could also perhaps not of come at a worst time. It had originally been scheduled to take place on either the 11th or 12th of July, right at the height of the marching season in Northern Ireland. This is a time when tensions run high throughout the country so the decision was made to move the game to the Friday night with a slightly earlier kick-off time at 5pm. Celtic have taken the somewhat surprising decision to not take up their ticket allocation so there will be no away fans in the ground. It's sure to be a red-hot atmosphere and one that's hostile for the Celtic players but will their superior quality see them through?
The Blues look for a shock
To the on-pitch matters, Linfield will be desperate to cause an upset in what is one of the biggest games in their history. Though undeniably the underdogs, like Celtic they can reflect on a really successful domestic campaign last season in which they claimed the league and cup double, losing only three games all-season. Under the management of Northern Ireland's record goalscorer David Healy, they will now bid to attempt to make an impact in Europe, having crashed out in the first qualifying round of last season's Europa League. As well as Healy, there is also another familiar face to Premier League viewers in their ranks in 'keeper Roy Carroll. The former Manchester United goalkeeper is back in his homeland at the ripe old of age of 39 and as a former Rangers player like his manager, will have added incentive to pull off a shock here. Captain Andrew Waterworth is perhaps the man Celtic will have to be most wary of however. The 31-year-old forward hit 20 goals in the league last season and will be complimented up-front by Jordan Stewart who returned to his boyhood club this summer after a spell with Swindon. He scored the winner in the last round against La Fiorita on his debut so can he follow that up in this one?
Celtic huge favourites
For all the talk of the lack of Celtic fans or the fact that Linfield enjoyed a good season last time out, lets not get away from the fact that Celtic are expected to win this one. After claiming a domestic treble last season as well as going the whole league campaign unbeaten, Brendan Rodgers' men are in very good shape. The focus for this season will be more of the same on a domestic level as well as improving their European showing. Though they suffered embarrassment at this stage of the competition last season with a 1-0 defeat to Lincoln Red Imps, they claimed a comfortable victory in the second leg and ultimately made the Group Stages. After suffering a knock in the friendly against Shamrock Rovers, captain Scott Brown is expected to be fit whilst recent signing from Manchester City Olivier Ntcham could also feature.
The fact that Linfield only beat San Marino's La Fiorina 1-0 over two legs is hardly evidence they are going to pose much threat to Celtic. We think Celtic are going to win this one but at this early stage of the season, they might not quite be right up to speed. We can see them winning but perhaps not by a thumping scoreline and like the value offered by a Celtic win to nil.
- Linfield last reached this stage of qualifying in the 2012-13 season when they lost to AEL Limassol
- They have won only six of their 63 Champions League games
- Scott Brown has made more European appearances for Celtic than any other player (76)
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