Celtic drawn to face Helsingborgs in Champions League play-off

Champions League draw

Celtic have been drawn to face Swedish side Helsingborgs in the Champions League play-off.

Neil Lennon's side progressed to the play-off stage following a 4-1 aggregate victory over HJK Helsinki.

Helsingborgs, who lie sixth in the Swedish Allsvenskan, have already defeated Welsh champions The New Saints and Polish outfit Slask Wroclaw.

Celtic will play the first game away on 21 August with the return in Glasgow on 29 August.

It is the first time Celtic have faced a Swedish club in European competition, but Swedish fans know all about the Scottish champions through the exploits in Glasgow of former international striker Henrik Larsson.

Larsson starred for both clubs and admits he has "mixed emotions" about the Champions League tie.

"I have a great history with both clubs," he told BBC Scotland when asked to reveal who he wanted to win the tie or who he thought would come out on top.

"Without Helsingborgs, I would never have come out in Europe to become a professional footballer.

"And, without Celtic, I would never have been the player that I was.

"My feelings are a little mixed on the situation. I just hope the best team over the two games wins and it is a good game for the fans."

Helsingborgs now have former Manchester City and Norwich City manager Age Hareide in charge following Conny Karlsson's resignation a couple of months into the current season after leading his side to the title last year.

Finnbogason is challenged by New Saints' Simon Spender in the second qualifying round
Finnbogason is challenged by New Saints' Simon Spender in the second qualifying round

"They have changed their coaches now, but they are a very strong team," said Larsson.

"They were second two years ago and last year they won the league.

"It is a good side that is well organised in the defence.

"They are struggling a bit in the offensive part, but one of the strikers scored a hat-trick against the Polish team they knocked out.

"It is a tough game for Celtic but not impossible."

Despite his knowledge of both clubs, the head coach of Swedish second-tier side Landskrona does not expect either to tap into that ahead of the Champions League tie.

"If somebody calls me, I will answer the questions, but I don't think anyone will call me because they know the situation I am in," said Larsson.

Helsingborgs are six points adrift of Elfsborg in their domestic table but have a game in hand over all but the leaders after 17 games.

Last year's domestic treble winners were held to a 0-0 draw by TNS in Wales before a comfortable 3-0 win at home in their second qualifying round tie.

However, they impressed in the next round, beating the Polish champions 3-0 in Wroclaw before winning 3-1 in Helsingborg thanks to that hat trick by recent Norway debutant Thomas Sorum.

As the draw was taking place, Helsingborgs were adding Alejandro Bedoya to their squad after the United States midfielder left Celtic's city rivals Rangers.

Also included in their squad are Alfred Finnbogason, a 23-year-old Iceland striker who played for Hutcheson Vale Boys Club and became a Hibernian fan while his family lived in Edinburgh, and Norway defender Erlend Hanstveit, who had a trial with Celtic in December 2008.

Celtic midfielder Kris Commons said: "I wouldn't say we are confident of progressing, but it certainly whets your appetite to think you are potentially two games away from playing in the Champions League.

"After the game in Helsinki everyone was buzzing and it's something we all want to be part of."

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