THE Celtic side which beat Rosenborg 1-0 in a Champions League match back in 2001 was the exact same eleven that would start against Porto two years later in the UEFA Cup Final.

That in fact was the first ever group stage game to be played at Parkhead and if the club are to return to that arena this season, chances are they will need to get past the Norwegians who last week drew 1-1 with Dundalk in Ireland.

Of course, the Irish will have something to say about that; however, the current Rosenborg team are by all accounts a half decent side – they almost always are – and should have enough about them to get the job done on Wednesday, while Celtic might well use Linfield as target practice.

The Scottish treble winners appear to be in good shape despite Saturday’s 4-0 friendly defeat to Lyon. All the goals were scored in the second-half when the average age of Celtic’s team was about 18.

Brendan Rodgers will strongly fancy his men will make the play-offs which would mean at worst a Europa League campaign.

There is an awful a lot riding on this next round of qualifiers for Celtic who are going to dominate the domestic scene. The Champions League would provide proof to see just how far this squad has come and how good they can be with the new players.

Olivier Ntcham made his debut and while rusty it was plain to see what he can bring to the party. The pleasant surprise at the weekend was Kundai Benyu, who himself is only 19.

Signed from Ipswich Town for a couple of hundred grand, the Englishman wasn’t expected to see much first-team action but really looked the part against Lyon. The lad can play a bit.

However, it is likely to be the same team which started on Friday that will face Linfield on Wednesday and then it’s Rosenborg or a return over the Irish sea if Dundalk can, as they’ve done once or twice in recent years, cause an upset.

“Rosenborg have to get through but they are a good team who have done well in Norway,” said Kristoffer Ajer, Celtic’s very own Norwegian. “They will be a good opponent. They have strong attacking players who are good on the ball.

“They are a good team and there would be a lot of interest in the game in Norway.

“Celtic are a huge club with brilliant fans and a great history, so it would big news for Norwegian football.

“Rosenborg are in the biggest club in my country so it would get a lot of attention.

“The league now is quite strong but it’s not that physical compared to here. They want to play out from the back in Norway and there are a lot of astroturf pitches too.”

It will be interesting to see what happens this season with Ajer who clearly has talent. He did well on loan at Kilmarnock last time out and that might be what happens again.

Celtic need another defender with Dedryck Boyata out for three months but Rodgers has given no indication yet that he believes Ajer is up to speed.

That’s not to mean the young Norwegian can’t be a player at Celtic. He is tall, quick, good on the ball and for someone who hadn’t played in defence until arriving in Scotland 18 months ago, he has adapted well to a new life and position.

“My positioning has improved and my timing in the tackle is better,” said Ajer. “I feel much more in control of where I need to be when we don’t have the ball and are defending. I feel a lot more comfortable as a central defender.

“I learned a lot over six months at Celtic and the other centre halves were really good with me. The advice they gave me was outstanding. Kolo Toure was a massive help as was Erik Sviatchenko.

“I took a lot from guys like that. I had to work on everything about that position because I had never played there before I came to Scotland. I did that and now I feel in control.”

Rodgers will send more players out on loan. He wants a squad of 23 and right now there are a lot more than that in and around the squad. There are worst scenarios for a football manager.

If Ntcham can hit the ground running and Benyu continues to impress – and the word is the senior players have been taken aback about how good he is – then the loss of Patrick Roberts and uncertainty over Stuart Armstrong will be dealt with.

Emilio Izaguirre had a good game and that’s some deputy left-back to have, while January signing Eboue Koussai will be given time to come good.

Celtic are in another word compared to everyone else in the Scottish Premiership. The task now is to show once again that they are a Champions League side.

HeraldScotland | Sport

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