Celtic v FC Astana

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Griffiths featured as a second-half substitute in Friday’s win at Partick Thistle

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Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths insists he is “fully fit” and looking forward to Wednesday’s Champions League play-off first leg against Astana.

Griffiths, 26, has been troubled by a calf problem in recent weeks.

Last season’s top scorer Moussa Dembele remains sidelined with a hamstring injury and is not expected to return until next month.

Celtic are also missing central defensive pair Erik Sviatchenko and Dedryck Boyata.

Midfielder Nir Bitton has been deputising at the back, alongside Jozo Simunovic.

Griffiths scored in both legs when the teams met last season in the previous round of qualifying, with a late Dembele penalty edging Celtic through 3-2 on aggregate.

“I was fit and raring to go on Friday,” said Griffiths, who appeared as a substitute in the Premiership win at Partick Thistle.

“This is such a massive game and the gaffer just took a bit of precaution.

James Forrest scored the only goal against Rosenborg in the previous qualifying round

“It makes or breaks our season, getting into the Champions League. Last season it gave us a great platform.

“We were in a difficult group [finishing last behind Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Mönchengladbach] but just making it after two disappointing years was massive for everybody involved.”

Griffiths has scored four goals in five outings this term but has only started three of Celtic’s seven games due to injury and suspension.

Central midfielder Tom Rogic and wingers Scott Sinclair and James Forrest have been used up front in the absence of the club’s main strikers.

“If me and Moussa are both injured, it’s difficult at times,” said Griffiths. “But when we’re fit I wouldn’t have any other strikers in the league.

“I don’t think there is any added pressure [on being the only fit centre forward]. As we proved last year, even when Moussa was fit, I was still the main man to get the goals to fire us into the Champions League.

“With the quality we have in the dressing room, we are more than capable of getting through the two legs.”

Astana lead the Kazakh Premier League by seven points after 23 matches, having lost just twice, as they seek a fourth consecutive title.

They will be without Dorde Despotovic due to injury, while Marin Anicic is a doubt. Defender Yevgeny Postnikov has recovered and will be available for the match at Celtic Park.

Astana manager Stanimir Stoilov reckons fitness will not be a problem for Celtic

“Not conceding an away goal is vital,” added Griffiths. “And we’ve got the players to stop them.

“It’s not going to be won tomorrow but we can give ourselves a great chance going to their place next week.

“I think they’ve kept most of their players from last year, so we know what we’re up against and it’s going to be difficult but, if we bring our A-game, we have a great chance to progress.”

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers has said is squad is still getting to full fitness but Astana manager Stanimir Stoilov is convinced that will not be an issue for the Scottish champions.

“In my opinion Celtic are already 100% fit,” he said. “They have played six official games and two friendly matches.

“That’s enough for a football player to get into good shape. Of course there will be a little benefit for us that our championship has already started but our whole team is under pressure.”

Meanwhile, Celtic last night confirmed that the remaining season ticket holders who were suspended from the club’s ‘Green Brigade Section’ have been readmitted with effect from Wednesday’s match against Astana.

The fans had been suspended “following the serious safety concerns regarding events at the matches against Hearts in May and Linfield on 19 July”.


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