FK Sarajevo vs CelticUEFA Champions League, KO: 18:45 Jul 9, 2019, Olympic Stadium
CELTIC'S quest to reach the promised land of the Champions League group stage seems to get harder every year.
Having twice dined at the top table under Brendan Rodgers, the Hoops came up short last season, falling in the third of four qualifying rounds to AEK Athens.
The path to this season's group stage is just a treacherous, with new boss Neil Lennon branding the schedule of eight potential games in eight weeks as “ridiculous”.#
But if there's anyone who knows what it takes to guide Celtic through this demanding run of matches so early in the new campaign then it's Lennon.
The Northern Irishman had a few teething troubles in Europe during his first spell as boss, crashing out to Braga in his first Champions League qualifier then making an equally swift exit to Utrecht after dropping into the Europa League qualifiers.
But after a great escape the following season, when Celtic lost to Sion but still went through to the Europa League group stage because the Swiss side had fielded five ineligible players, Lennon excelled on the European stage as a manager.
He led the club to the Champions League group stage the next year then claimed a memorable 2-1 win over Barcelona on the way to reaching the last 16.
And in his final season at the helm before making way for Ronny Deila, Lennon took Celtic to the group stage again, although this time they would finish bottom of their section.
So although the Hoops have been handed a tricky first qualifier against Sarajevo, Lennon's experience should help them avoid a disastrous early exit.
Many fans were less than enthused when the former Hibs boss was named as the permanent successor to Rodgers in the wake of the Scottish Cup win that sealed a historic treble Treble.
But Lennon's moves in the transfer window seem to have blown away most of the negativity. Failure to land a dominant centre back cost Celtic in last season's qualifiers, where Jack Hendry's limitations were exposed in the loss to AEK, but Lennon has splashed out £7million to land Christopher Jullien from Toulouse.
He should shore up a defence that was often exposed in the European arena and the man mountain also offers a threat in the opposition box from set-pieces. But the Frenchman has been left on the bench for Sarajevo as his fitness still isn't up to speed.
Lennon has also brought in left-back Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo from Rapid Vienna and Bolton youngster Luca Connell while January signing Maryan Shved is also available after spending the second half of last season back on loan at his club in Ukraine.
Scott Sinclair has been left on the bench for a lot of games since Lennon replaced Rodgers and I thought Shved would get the nod ahead of him. But the Ukrainian has been left out of the matchday squad completely while Sinclair has to settle for a seat on the bench again.
Leigh Griffiths has been on fire in pre-season, scoring goals for fun on his return to the side after a long spell on the sidelines with mental health issues. It's no great surprise that Griffiths hasn't started ahead of Odsonne Edouard up front but he could make an impact off the bench. That makes the striker a good option for last scorer at 7/2 with William Hill.
Sarajevo are no mugs, having beaten the likes of Genk, Levski Sofia and Haugesund of Norway in Europe over the last decade. But they were crushed 8-0 at home by Atalanta in the Europa League qualifiers last season while their last two home Champions League qualifiers ended in narrow defeats to Lech Poznan (2-0) and Dynamo Kiev (1-0).
That suggests Celtic might also edge this without conceding, which is 13/10 with Boylesport. Doubling a Hoops win with under 3.5 goals also appeals at 11/10 with Betway.
This UEFA Champions League match between FK Sarajevo and Celtic will be played on Jul 9, 2019 and kick off at 18:45