Opportunity knocks for both Rangers and Celtic
Rangers boss Steven Gerrard needs a win over Rapid Vienna to progress to the knockout phase (pic: SNS Group)
Rangers and Celtic stand on the brink of notable progress in the Europa League, with the two Glasgow rivals within touching distance of the last 32.
Steven Gerrard’s side need a win in Austria against Rapid Vienna this evening to qualify while a point at home to Salzburg will see Brendan Rodgers’ men join them in the knockout phase.
It’s been quite a journey for the clubs this season and both managers will be more than satisfied to have their destiny within their control going into the final match of the group phase.
The Gers’ European renaissance under rookie boss Gerrard has been impressive and 10,000 fans are expected to descend on the Austrian capital – only 2500 will be inside the Allianz Stadion – to see if they can finish the job which started back in July.
“It will be a tough game for us on what looks like it is going to be a difficult pitch,” said Gerrard. “But we have shown before that when the challenge is 50-50, or we are underdogs, that we have responded really well.
“We want to keep trying to achieve things. I think we have done extremely well in Europe so far. I think we have overachieved.
“I don’t think many people gave us a chance to qualify through four qualifying rounds. I don’t think many people gave us a chance when the draw was made because ourselves and Rapid were huge underdogs.
“It’s a chance for us to prove that we belong here and are capable of going a stage further. But whatever happens, on the European journey the players have done themselves proud.”
A point at home to Salzburg will be enough for Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic side to make it through (pic: SNS Group)
Europa League history will be made at Parkhead, regardless of the outcome of the Group B finale.
Leaders Salzburg are aiming to make it an unprecedented six wins out of six, while Celtic have never progressed from a European group involving teams from the Continent’s top five leagues.
If Salzburg win, Leipzig will edge Celtic out of second place with a win at home to pointless Rosenborg.
“It has the feel of a big game, a game that we are really, really looking forward to,” said Rodgers.
“And rightly so because of our form, and not just how we have been playing in the last 2-3 months. In European competition, we have got better and better.
“You only want it to be in your hands, it is in our hands and we want to grab that.
“You look at the power of Leipzig and where they sit in their league, and look at Salzburg with the power that whole Red Bull organisation have, we’ve put ourselves in a really good position.
“We know it’s a tough test for us. But with everything and knowing we need a result it’s not workable to play for a draw.
“It should be an incredible atmosphere, the wall of noise that comes from the stadium. The Salzburg guys, some of them won’t have experienced it before and for us it’s a great energy for our team and how we play. So we look to get the job done.”
Rodgers also confirmed that striker Leigh Griffiths will be out of action for the foreseeable future as he battles ongoing ‘personal issues’ with the support of the club.
The Celtic coach acknowledged that matters had come to a head and Griffiths could no longer continue as part of the squad.
Rodgers said he would not betray confidences about the problems which have bedevilled the 28-year-old international but, asked about rumours of a gambling problem that have dogged the former Hibernian player, he replied: “It’s more than that; it’s a culmination of things.”