Celtic hurdle remains for Swedish champs

Celtic hurdle remains for Swedish champs
Swedish champions Helsingborg must overcome the Scottish champions Celtic in order to claim a place in the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2000.

Friday’s play-off round draw paired the Scottish title-holders with a Helsingborg side who eliminated Poland’s Slask Wroclaw 6-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round.

Neil Lennon’s Celtic side beat HJK Helsinki 4-1 on aggregate in their tie, and were seeded for this stage of the competition.

Henrik Larsson, one of Celtic’s all-time great strikers, had two spells at Helsingborg either side of his seven-year stint at Celtic Park.

The play-off stage draw is divided into two, with domestic champions kept apart from clubs who qualified for the tournament without winning their national titles.

That means Celtic avoided teams from Europe’s biggest leagues, including former European Cup finalists Borussia Moenchengladbach.

The Bundesliga side, who were beaten by Liverpool in the 1977 final, are hoping to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League for the first time but face a tough tie against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv.

Spanish club Malaga, who are enduring serious financial problems this summer, will face Greek outfit Panathinaikos, the third-qualifying round conquerors of Motherwell who are coached by former Malaga boss Jesualdo Ferreira.

“We know him, he left here by the back door,” said Malaga midfielder Duda.

“But we will focus on the game rather than worry about anything going on off the pitch.

“Everyone knows about Panathinaikos, they are one of Greece’s top teams with some great players, some of whom have played in Spain.”

Braga meet Udinese and Lille of France take on FC Copenhagen, the Danes who reached the last 16 two seasons ago.

“Denmark was perhaps the best destination ossible for us in terms of climate and proximity,” responded Lille captain Rio Mavuba.

“They are a top team who did really well in Europe two years ago.”

The 10 play-off round winners will join 22 automatic qualifiers in the group stage, which runs from September 18-19 to December 4-5.

This season’s final will be held at Wembley for the second time in three years.

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