HJK Helsinki pitch not rock hard, says Juho Rantala

HJK Helsinki assistant manager Juho Rantala

HJK Helsinki assistant manager Juho Rantala has played down concerns about the Finnish side's pitch ahead of Celtic's visit on Wednesday.

Celtic lead 2-1 on aggregate ahead of the Champions League qualifying third round second leg at the Sonera Stadium.

And Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster said diving on the artificial surface may feel like "diving on a car park".

But Rantala responded: "The pitch cannot be an excuse. It is not rock hard like the old plastic pitches."

And he explained further: "They changed it a year ago to a new and better one.

"It is a bit different with regards defending because it is easier to tackle on grass.

"But I have always said that if you know how to play football then you can pass the ball on our pitch.

"We would like to play on a surface like Celtic Park every week but because of the climate in Finland we have to have an artificial pitch."

HJK scored first leg in last week's first leg in Glasgow, Rasmus Schuller volleying home early in the second half.

Gary Hooper levelled and Charlie Mulgrew headed Celtic ahead in the tie.

Rasmus Schuller celebrates after scoring for HJK Helsinki against Celtic
Schuller scored an away goal for HJK in Glasgow

"We need to be confident at 2-1," added Rantala.

"One goal for us and they are out, that is one thing that they may have on their minds. So it might be a mental game.

"But we are happy that the tie is still alive, we defended stubbornly in the first game but Celtic are still the favourites.

"They are a famous European club playing against a small Finnish team whose pedigree is not the best.

"We have to believe we have a chance and we know we can play better than we did at Celtic Park - and we know we will have to.

"So we hope we can cause an upset and it will be a big shock if we get through."

Mulgrew was suspended for but he will return on Wednesday.

James Forrest is expected to overcome the groin strain that prevented him playing against the Dons while captain Scott Brown, who was also absent on Saturday, may to take an injection in his hip to play against HJK.

Top Stories