JOOS Valgaeren will be fit for Celtic's semi-final first-leg tie against Boavista a week on Thursday. That was the professional opinion of the Belgian Football Association doctor after assessing the defender's condition last night. It is one which will have Celtic's supporters heaving a sigh of relief.

Celtic will seek a second opinion from their own doctor, Roddy MacDonald, when the player returns to Parkhead this morning and will discover the extent of his injury later in the day. The word from Belgium, though, is that suggestions of serious medial ligament damage and the possibility of missing the championship run-in are wide of the mark.

The Herald understands that Martin O'Neill made a personal telephone call to the Belgian association yesterday afternoon to demand that Valgaeren's scans take place in Scotland. He was acutely annoyed when he discovered that the player remained on the field for 10 minutes after sustaining the injury in a 4-0 defeat by Croatia on Saturday.

''The injury seems a lot better,'' said the Belgium doctor, Marc Goosen. ''Celtic will need to rest him this weekend but he should be able to play against Boavista, no problem.''

The dilemma now is in selecting the best deputy for Sunday's visit to Dundee. The progress of Stephen Crainey has been evident, not least by his elevation to the senior Scotland squad, yet having reached a critical stage of his personal development, he will be distinctly unfulfilled by only a half-dozen starts for his club so far this season.

With his outings now curtailed by Ulrik Laursen's unglamorous efficiency, the time may not be too far away when the 22-year-old will have to contemplate his next career move. He is not alone in that respect.

John Kennedy's name is already ingrained in Celtic's hefty history book having become the youngest player ever to be called into the first-team. Kennedy, a raw, foal-like 16-year-old was the stand-out sapling against Dundee United in the final match of the 1999-2000 campaign and a miserable season ended with at least a hint of promise.

He, like Crainey, has discovered that the craving for further first-team exposure difficult to satisfy. A solitary start against FC Suduva has at least given him a head-start over many of the Scotland under-21 colleagues who travelled with him to Lithuania yesterday.

Bulked-up and possessing a Hansen-like fusion of silk and steel to his play, little wonder that O'Neill refused Dundee United permission to speak to the player during the last opening of the transfer window. Secured until the end of next season, and only 19 years of age, big things are expected of the Bellshill boy.

''You can't stay around for ever if you are not involved and there comes a time when you really need to start getting first-team football,'' he said, after another impressive display for Scotland's under-21s against Iceland last Friday.

With Ian McCall adamant that a squad overhaul is necessary at Tannadice, Celtic's resolve - and Kennedy's for that matter - is likely to be tested again at the end of the season. ''I will wait and see how things develop in the next year but you have to be prepared to play elsewhere if things don't work out.''