Celtic not weaker Champions League opponents - Maribor

Maribor striker Marcos Tavares
Maribor beat Zrinjski Mostar of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Israel's Maccabi Tel-Aviv to reach this stage.
Champions League play-off first leg
Date: Wednesday, 20 August. Venue: Ljudski vrt, Maribor. Kick-off: 19:45 BST.
Coverage: BBC Radio Scotland 810 MW, live text commentary on BBC Sport website.

Maribor midfielder Dare Vrsic says the Slovenians do not face weaker opposition because Celtic were reinstated to the Champions League.

The Scottish champions were beaten 6-1 on aggregate by Legia Warsaw, who were punished for fielding a banned player.

But Vrsic insists that Celtic are "an excellent European team".

Even so, the 29-year-old believes the Slovenian champions can end their long absence from the group stage of Europe's top club competition.

"Maribor have been waiting to play in the Champions League for 15 years and I believe that we are capable of achieving our aim over the next 10 days," he said ahead of Wednesday's play-off first leg.

Vrsic, who joined his hometown club this year after leaving Austria Vienna, scored in the 2-0 win over Zrinjski Mostar of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the second qualifying round before the Slovenes defeated Maccabi Tel-Aviv of Israel 3-2 on aggregate.

"We are very calm, we have nothing to lose but a lot to win," he added.

Maribor coach Ante Simundza, a former Slovenia striker who has spent his whole managerial career in his homeland, agreed with Vrsic.

"It is true that Celtic lost 6-1 to Legia over two legs, but they had a lot of bad luck and missed a lot of chances," he said. "This result must not influence our players."

The 42-year-old has done his homework on Celtic under Norwegian manager Ronny Deila.

"We know very well the weaknesses and strengths of our visitors from Glasgow," said the Maribor coach.

"With their new coach, they play a more Scandinavian game with a lot of fast running and with very dynamic players all around the pitch.

"The Celtic coach is young and new, meaning his ideas are maybe not so visible yet.

Maribor acquitted themselves well against Sevilla in last season's Europa League
Maribor acquitted themselves well against Sevilla in last season's Europa League

"We are ready for their aggressive style, but first we have to impose our style of play on them."

Maribor have won their last two meetings with Scottish sides in Europe, beating Rangers and Hibernian after having lost to the Ibrox side previously.

Their coach is no stranger to the Champions League group stage - he played for the club when they reached that stage for the first and last time in 1999 - and is not thinking of settling for a place in the Europa League.

"We are guaranteed European football until December, but the Champions League is something special," said Simundza. "We will do everything to grab it.

"We must think about the away game, too, because this is only the first half. The decider will be in Glasgow.

"And I have to say once again: those who think Maribor are favourites are wrong - it would be very utopian to think of a team like Celtic as outsiders."

Maribor lost their first game of the season on Saturday - 3-1 to Celje - to end a seven-game unbeaten run and sporting director Zlatko Zahovic described it as an early-season wake-up call similar to Celtic's against the Poles.

"Just like Celtic lost in Warsaw, the same thing happened to us in Celje," said Zahovic.

"I think we are very, very lucky that happened to us in the national championship and not in the qualification for the Champions League.

"Now it is important that we thoroughly prepare for an epic duel on Wednesday."

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