Celtic eye Champions League progression
Celtic are seeking to give Scottish football a lift, as the third qualifying phase for the UEFA Champions League concludes this week, with several big names out to secure a berth in the play-off round.
After a lacklustre 1-0 victory over Aberdeen in their Scottish Premier League opener on Saturday, Neil Lennon's side travel to Helsinki on Wednesday seeking to move a step closer to their first appearance in the group stage since 2008.
Simply avoiding defeat would be enough to see them progress but having won just once away from home in the past 32 European matches, Celtic, who won the European title in 1967, are taking nothing for granted.
The Scottish champions - favourites again for the SPL title after Rangers' demotion to the third tier following financial troubles - won 2-1 against HJK at Celtic Park in the first leg.
But the return fixture at the Sonera Stadium will be played on artificial turf, raising fears from Celtic keeper Fraser Forster who said it may be like "diving on a car park".
Helsinki's assistant manager Juho Rantala, though, dismissed the visitors' qualms. "The pitch cannot be an excuse, it cannot be about the pitch. It is not rock hard like the old plastic pitches," Rantala said.
"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."
Club captain Scott Brown's availability remains uncertain but the midfielder, who missed the season opener against the Dons, may take an injection in order to play.
James Forrest is expected to return after a groin problem, while Georgios Samaras suffered no lingering consequences after taking a boot to the face on Saturday.
Celtic also welcomed back midfielder Beram Kayal after eight months out with an ankle injury and the Israeli international is desperate to keep the club's European dream alive.
Kayal said confidence was high in the Celtic camp but they needed to translate domestic into European success. "I've played in the Champions League with Maccabi Haifa and it's a great feeling. We just think positive and believe we are going to get through," he added.
Celtic's SPL rivals Motherwell, meanwhile, have a mountain to climb after suffering a 2-0 reverse at home to Greek giants Panathinaikos.
BATE Borisov, the only Belarusian team to have previously qualified for group stage, face off against Debrecen in Hungary on Tuesday after a 1-1 draw last week.
Dynamo Kiev against Feyenoord, the second of two games scheduled for Tuesday, sees the Ukrainians take a slender 2-1 advantage to Rotterdam.
Swiss title-winners Basel own a 1-0 lead over Molde after their triumph in Norway, while CFR Cluj of Romania also have a one-goal advantage going into their away tie again Czech side Slovan Liberec.
Belgian champions Anderlecht all but secured their place in the next round with a 5-0 win over Ekranas of Lithuania, while debutants Hapoel Kiryat Shmona of Israel have a play-off berth in their sights after a 4-0 win over Azerbaijan's Neftci.
Copenhagen reached the last 16 of the competition two seasons ago but last year's Danish runners-up face a tricky second leg against Club Brugge in Belgium after a goalless draw.
Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb host Sheriff Tiraspol, holding a 1-0 lead over the Moldovan outsiders but Serbian champions Partizan Belgrade must overturn a 1-0 deficit when they welcome Cypriot outfit AEL Limassol.
Meanwhile, Turkish giants Fenerbahce have it all to do after a 1-1 draw at home to Romanian side Vaslui.