By Coral Barry
Leigh Griffiths has insisted the Celtic players will perform in the Champions League qualifiers after two years of failure in the qualifying rounds.
Celtic were unable to make the group stages at all under former manager Ronny Deila and that mark on his record was a major issue during his reign.
The responsibility of securing qualification has now fallen to new boss Brendan Rodgers, but Griffiths believes it is ultimately down to the players to do themselves and their manager justice.
“The Champions League fixtures are a focus – and we’re desperate to do ourselves justice,” said Griffiths speaking to the Daily Record.
“All the boys are desperate to play and ready to go. We know it’s going to be difficult again but the manager has stressed to us that it’s where we want to be.
“It’s the pinnacle of the club game, the Champions League, and we’re working really hard to get everything right.
“We’re so keen to make sure we make an impression – and get in that group stage come the end of August.
“I watched it last year wishing we were there.
“After the disappointment of Malmo we saw the group they got drawn in with Real Madrid, PSG and Shakhtar Donetsk. It was frightening.
“I’m sure all the boys were sitting at home thinking that could have been us, if only we’d performed.
“But we didn’t and had to settle for the Europa League. Hopefully we’ll go one better in Europe this season and make that group stage.”
Celtic were knocked out by Malmo in qualification last August despite going 2-0 up at one stage.
The Hoops threw away a two goal lead in the first leg to snatch a 3-2 victory before suffering a 2-0 defeat in Sweden to lose the tie 4-3 on aggregate.
The lacking mentality and failure to dominate would be a constant theme through-out Deila’s reign, but Grifiths has claimed that although the qualifications are never easy, Celtic should not be forced to go through them as champions of Scotland.
The striker said: “It’s a difficult one, the qualifiers, because nine times out of ten you’d expect the champions of a country to go straight into the group stage.
“It’s unfortunate for us, being so low down the pecking order that we have to go through three qualifiers, never mind just one.
“But it’s part and parcel of what we face now. We just need to adapt to it.”
Celtic begin their campaign next week against either Flora Tallinn or Lincoln Red Imps with the squad currently in Slovenia finishing off their pre-season tour.