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Celtic strive for European improvement in Champions League

Celtic begin their latest Champions League campaign on Tuesday as they head to De Kuip to take on Feyenoord in their Group E opener, but can the Glasgow giants make it through to the knockout stages of Europe's premier club competition for what would be the first time in 11 years?

It will be a tough ask for Brendan Rodgers and his side, as once again Celtic have been drawn into a tough group alongside Champions League stalwarts Atletico Madrid, Serie A outfit Lazio and reigning Dutch champions Feyenoord.

The Bhoys are 9/1 outsiders to top the group and 11/4 to qualify for the knockout stages, something they haven't achieved since Neil Lennon steered them through during the 2012/13 campaign - does anyone remember Tony Watt's famous goal against Barcelona at Parkhead?

If Celtic are to stand a realistic chance of progressing this year they will surely need to gain a positive result in Rotterdam on Tuesday, and they are 17/4 to claim the victory, while Feyenoord are available at 4/7 and the draw is 10/3.

WhatChampions League - Group E
WhereGlasgow, Madrid, Rotterdam and Rome
WhenTuesday 19th September - Wednesday 13th December
How to watchTNT Sports
OddsTo win group: Atletico Madrid 4/7, Lazio 3/1, Feyenoord 7/1, Celtic 9/1

A club steeped in history

Celtic are a club with a rich and illustrious history in European football, as they were the first British side to win the European Cup/Champions League in 1967 when the famous 'Lisbon Lions' upstaged Inter Milan.

Three years later Celtic reached another European Cup final, this time edged out in extra time by Feyenoord - the team they will open their Champions League campaign against this season in what will be the first meeting between the sides since that 1970 showpiece in Milan.

More recently, Celtic have continued to enjoy relative European success, reaching the UEFA Cup final under Martin O'Neill in 2003 before qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League in back-to-back years in 2007 and 2008 with Gordon Strachan at the helm.

Neil Lennon then steered the Bhoys through to the knockout stages again in 2013, but they were comprehensively beaten home and away by Juventus in the last 16 and they have not returned to that stage of the competition again since.

Recent European struggles contrast domestic dominance

Celtic's ongoing 11-year wait to once again make it through to the knockout stages has not been for the want of trying, as they have won the Scottish Premiership in nine of the 10 seasons since they last reached the round of 16, competing in the Champions League in each of those years.

However, in six of the previous 10 seasons, Celtic have failed to even make it to the group stage, losing instead in qualifying to teams such as Midtjylland, Ferencvaros, Cluj and Maribor.

When they have made it into the group stages, Celtic have barely been able to lay a glove on their opponents, picking up just 11 points from their last 24 matches at that stage of the competition under Lennon, Rodgers and, last season, Ange Postecoglou.

Rodgers is in his second spell in charge of Celtic, but the former Leicester boss does not have fond memories of leading the Bhoys into Champions League battle, as he won just one of his 12 group stage games in charge.

That is a record both Rodgers and Celtic will be keen to improve upon this time around, but the Scottish champions are just 1/4 to once again make a group stage exit.

Is there hope for Celtic in Group E?

There are no easy games in the Champions League proper and Celtic, as fourth seeds, always knew they were going to be handed a tough draw, although Rodgers and Co will be thankful they have avoided one of the real big hitters - a Manchester City, Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain that they have faced in previous years.

It was certainly a boost to Celtic when Feyenoord were pulled out of the hat and placed into their group from Pot 1, with the Dutch giants embarking on their first season in Europe's premier club competition for six years.

Lazio may also be considered a relatively kind draw, as this will be just the Italians' second group stage appearance in 16 years, while Celtic also beat the Biancocelesti home and away in the Europa League as recently as 2019.

Even being pitted against an Atletico Madrid side that have twice reached the final over the last decade may not daunt Celtic as much as it might have done previously, especially as Atleti finished bottom of their Champions League group 12 months ago.

This may be a group that Celtic, more so than in previous years, can be competitive in, and perhaps even defy their 11/4 odds to qualify for the knockout stages.

No Scottish team has made it to the last 16 of the Champions League since the Bhoys during 2012/13, but this could be the year that wait finally comes to an end.

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