Rodgers sad over absence of Celtic fans

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Celtic reached the group stage of the Champions League last season, losing three and drawing three games

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers says he is disappointed they will have no fans in Belfast for Friday’s Champions League qualifier against Linfield.

Celtic declined tickets for the first leg amid security concerns.

“That’s the only sadness for me,” said County Antrim-born Rodgers.

“It’s a shame for Linfield and for Northern Ireland because football is a sport in this country that is loved and to have had the two sets of supporters there would have been fantastic.”

The qualifier was moved back from 11-12 July to avoid a clash with Orange Order commemorations.

Linfield said they respected Celtic’s decision but have also expressed dismay about the lack of travelling fans at Windsor Park.

Rodgers disappointed by absence of Celtic fans

“The Celtic supporters will travel worldwide but this is a game that the football club hasn’t had the assurances for their safety, which is sad for me, coming back to a new Northern Ireland,” added Rodgers.

“Not being able to ensure that the supporters’ safety is guarded, that’s a problem for me.

“We will just focus on the football and next week in Glasgow there will be 60,000 there and we’ll enjoy the football in the home leg as well.

“You always want to hear your own supporters, but it won’t take a lot away from the actual game. It will be a good atmosphere, I’m sure.”

‘We always respect every opponent’

Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar made headlines across Europe when they ruined Rodgers’ debut as Celtic boss with a shock win at this stage of the tournament last year.

Celtic salvaged the tie and went on to reach the group stage of the tournament last season, finishing bottom of their section with three draws and three defeats.

Celtic recovered to win 3-0 at home after losing 1-0 to Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar

Those were the club’s only losses in a remarkable debut campaign for Rodgers, who picked up every domestic trophy.

Asked if there was any danger of Celtic underestimating the Northern Irish champions, Rodgers laughed: “Not after last year, in my first game.

“Of course, now we’re a different side, we have a different mentality.

“We always respect every opponent. I have watched three of Linfield’s games, one against Cliftonville and both of their qualification games [against FC Fiorita of San Marino].

“I’m sure they will aim to make it difficult for us. For us, our concentration is very much on our own game and how we play.

“My job is to qualify. The team’s in a different state, one year on, in every facet of football. These types of games are never easy but we go in to this game with the expectancy to win.

“We expect it will be a tough game for us but if we show our qualities it gives us a good chance to get a good lead in the first leg.”

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