Northern Ireland-born Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers led his club to a domestic treble last season

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Irish League champions Linfield are major underdogs as they meet Celtic for the first time, in the Champions League second qualifying round first leg.

The semi-professional club host the Scottish champions at their Windsor Park home on Friday, with the return leg at Parkhead on Wednesday, 19 July.

Celtic captain Scott Brown is fit after overcoming an Achilles problem.

Midfielder Olivier Ntcham, signed from Manchester City on Wednesday, has not travelled with the squad.

Scotland midfielder Brown suffered his injury in last weekend’s 9-0 friendly win over League of Ireland side Shamrock Rovers.

Defender Dedryck Boyata is out with a long-term knee injury, so Erik Sviatchenko and Jozo Simunovic are set to form the central defensive partnership.

Republic of Ireland winger Jonny Hayes could make his competitive debut following his June move from Aberdeen.

Rodgers disappointed by absence of Celtic fans

Moussa Dembele is set for his first competitive appearance since the Scottish Cup semi-final in April.

The French striker scored 32 goals during the last campaign, five of those coming in Europe.

Celtic reached the group stages of the Champions League last season, but failed to register a victory, drawing three of their six matches.

The club were unbeaten domestically, however, as they secured a domestic treble in Rodgers’ first season in charge.

“These type of games are never easy and they’ll aim to make it difficult for us but we go into the game with the expectancy to win,” Rodgers said. “Our focus is on doing a professional job.”

The fixture was switched from its initial date in the Uefa calendar – the midweek of 11-12 July – because of a clash with the annual Twelfth of July parades in Northern Ireland, while Celtic subsequently declined to take up their allocation of tickets, citing fears over the safety of their supporters.

Linfield manager David Healy

Linfield also collected three trophies in their boss David Healy’s first full season in charge of the Irish League’s most successful club.

The Belfast side will be without defender Jimmy Callacher, who is still recovering from a hernia problem, for arguably the biggest game in the club’s history.

Healy, Northern Ireland’s record international scorer with 36 goals, led his charges to a 1-0 aggregate win over San Marino champions La Fiorita in the first qualifying round. Jordan Stewart got what turned out to be the winning goal in the first leg at Windsor Park.

The Irish Premiership winners hope to earn around £1m in Uefa prize money, gate receipts, television revenue, advertising and merchandising as a result of the Celtic tie.

“This is a game we can look forward to and relish,” said Healy. “It will probably never happen again in these players’ careers and it’s a great opportunity for them.

“We are aware of the size of the task facing us in playing a team of the class of Celtic and are under no illusions how difficult it is going to be. We’ll have to be at our absolute maximum and Celtic will have to have an off night.”


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