Following an impressive 3-0 second leg victory over Lincoln Red Imps in the Champions League second qualifying round, Celtic are set for an intriguing clash against Astana.
Crowned champions of Kazakhstan in both of the last two seasons, the Hoops’ opponents also reached last season’s Champions League group stage.
So, what can Brendan Rodgers’ squad – and Celtic fans – expect from their next European opponents? Here’s our guide to the kings of Kazakhstan…
Who are they?
Founded as recently as 2009, Astana hit the ground running in Kazakh football, lifting the Kazakhstan Cup just a year after their formation. They won a first ever league title in 2014, before retaining the trophy by one point from the more established FC Kairat.
Last season saw the Blue and Yellows reach the group stage of the Champions League for the first time in their history, knocking out Cypriot giants APOEL en route, before taking a respectable four points from their group games – including a home draw with Atletico Madrid.
What’s the ground like?
Opened in 2009, the swanky Astana Arena boasts a capacity of 30,224 and comes complete with retractable roof. So it’s no wonder the Kazakhstan national team play their games here.
Located in the south of the Kazakh capital, it isn’t the most conveniently situated ground and lacks the history of somewhere like Celtic Park. But with modern facilities and excellent views, there’s no doubting this is a pleasant venue to watch the beautiful game.
The star men
It’s on the wings where the Kazakh champions boast the most talent, with captain Tanat Nusserbayev and pacy Ghanaian Patrick Twumasi both chipping in with their fair share of goals from the flanks, while the latter also offered up nine assists last season.
Sizeable forward Junior Kabananga offers them a decent target man, though even the biggest strikers are struggling against Celtic’s imposing defender Erik Sviatchenko.
Defensively, they’re more solid than spectacular, though Igor Shitov (he’s actually quite good) offers a bit of flair and plenty of experience, having played 48 times for Belarus.
Can they trouble Celtic?
Chances are that this will be a close-run thing, with both sides boasting quality in attack, but the Hoops should edge it over two legs. If Leigh Griffiths and Patrick Roberts can replicate their excellent displays against Lincoln at Celtic Park, they should be too tough for a workmanlike Astana defence to contend with.
Meanwhile, the Blue and Yellows have failed to score in four of their last nine European outings, meaning a fully-fit Celtic defence could well produce at least one shutout against their upcoming opponents.
Brendan Rodgers’ men head to Kazakhstan for the first leg on July 27, where the best value could be on a draw.
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