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Train from Togo minds the gap

KR Reykjavik supporters call Farid Zato the "Train from Togo" and the youngster's Champions League mission is to derail Celtic's journey to the group stages.

On Tuesday, the Icelandic champions host the Glasgow giants who will be looking to get off to a winning start under new manager Ronny Deila in the first leg of their qualifying tie.

Standing in Celtic's way in the middle of the park is the six-foot enforcer Zato, who is KR's version of the former Parkhead powerhouse Victor Wanyama.

The 22-year-old Togolese international is thrilled about the opportunity of playing on the big stage against the Scottish champions, but he is not fazed by the magnitude of the task. KR go into the first leg on the back of a successful run of home form, having won their last five matches as they chase early league leaders FH-Hafnarfjardar.

They won their 26th Urvalsdeild title last year by five points from FH, and the African star has faith that the side coach Runar Kristinsson has put together is capable of causing an upset.

"We're looking forward to the Celtic games," he said. "I don't know much about this current team, just the players that have been at the World Cup such as Efe Ambrose from Nigeria.

"I am a fan of Wanyama and it's a pity he left as I would have liked to have played against him, though my favourite player is Yaya Toure and he is a big influence on my career.

"On paper Celtic are strong favourites but anything is possible in football. We have a good young team and have been doing pretty well this year.

"Our manager has been preparing us well for the game. We hope to do our best and will try to win."

Zato is a recent signing for KR having joined up with Kristinsson's squad from league rivals Vikingur in February. On his debut in April, he helped his new side defeat Fram 2-0 to win the Icelandic Super Cup.

But his ambitions don't stop there. He wants to show any watching scouts taking in this European tie that he can play in a higher standard of league.

"Personally, I was very happy when I saw the draw was against Celtic," Zato said. "We're all very excited and it's an opportunity to impress on this type of stage and show what we can do. I want to progress as a footballer so if I do well, hopefully it will alert some clubs as I would like to play in a better league."

The tough-tackling midfielder, who won his first cap for Togo against the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, believes Celtic should not underestimate his side despite their inexperience.

"We have started well in the league and I've settled into the team even though I only joined at the start of this season.

"I've played the last few years in Iceland having come over from Togo as a teenager and there are some good young players in the league."

Celtic will head to KR's 3000-capacity Vollur Stadium for only their second tie against Icelandic opposition in European competition - the first encounter being a 9-0 aggregate win against Valur in 1975.

KR's record against Scottish teams is far from impressive having lost 14-1 to Aberdeen 47 years ago and 2-1 to Kilmarnock in 1999.

Deila has added just one player to his squad for this crucial encounter with the Norwegian having captured experienced Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon on a free transfer and he could hand the former Hearts player his debut in Iceland, with Fraser Forster having been away on England duty at the World Cup in Brazil.

While Zato is dreaming of his own big transfer, his one regret about playing Celtic at this time is that the second leg on July 22 has been moved to Murrayfield due to Celtic Park being used as a Commonwealth Games venue.

"I am disappointed the second game won't be at Celtic Park as I have seen the stadium on TV and it would have been excellent. But it will still be good to play in Scotland in another big stadium. We don't have a great chance but, in football, you never know."

Billy Dodds - Page 20

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