THAT Celtic and Feyenoord have not played each other in a competitive fixture for 53 years now is unusual given how much both clubs have been involved in continental competition during that time.

Yet, the European Cup final in Milan way back in 1970 is the last occasion, and in fact the only occasion, the Scottish and Dutch giants have faced each other in a meaningful match.

That encounter ended in heartbreak for the Parkhead club: Jock Stein’s side was beaten 2-1 after extra-time by Ernst Happel’s team and failed to reclaim the trophy they had lifted in Lisbon three seasons earlier.

Will Feyenoord inflict the same sort of pain on Celtic five decades down the line in their opening Champions League group stage game here in Rotterdam tonight?

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The stakes will be nowhere near as high in the De Kuip as they were in the San Siro. There is, though, a very real danger the rematch will prove to be just as problematic for the visitors as their previous meeting and a very good chance the final outcome will be every bit as agonising.  

Brendan Rodgers’ men may have put their dip in form – they were knocked out of the Viaplay Cup by Kilmarnock away and held to a draw at home by struggling St Johnstone in the cinch Premiership in the space of seven days last month – firmly behind them with wins over Rangers and Dundee.

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Rodgers is, however, missing Cameron Carter-Vickers, Maik Nawrocki, Stephen Welsh, Liel Abada and Marco Tilio just now and his charges are not performing with the same sort of flair and fluidity as they did during his previous spell in charge in the East End of Glasgow as a result.

“We’re not at peak Celtic I would say,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go before I’ll be happy and where I want us to be.”

The Celtic defence remains, despite three straight clean sheets, an area of concern. What centre-half pairing will the manager put his faith in? Nat Phillips, the Liverpool loanee, has only played 45 minutes of football since January. He was taken off at half-time on Saturday as a precaution after rolling his ankle. He trained yesterday. But will he be considered fit enough to start?

Liam Scales, who was outstanding against Rangers, should get the nod to partner either Phillips or Gustaf Lagerbielke. But how will the young Irishman handle making his Champions League group stage debut in one of the most intimidating arenas in European football against the most prolific side in the Eredivisie just now?

Scoring goals is not exactly an issue for Feyenoord at the moment. They have netted no fewer than 17 times in their last three league games against Almere City, Utrecht and Heerenveen to get the defence of their title firmly back on track after a sluggish start.

The loss of Santiago Gimenez, the £25m-rated Mexican who normally plays up front in the 4-3-3 formation which manager Arne Slot favours and who has found the target six times in five appearances this term, through suspension is a definite blow to the hosts.

With Japanese striker Ayase Ueda also out injured, Slot does not have a specialist centre-forward at his disposal and will have to move Igor Paixao of Brazil, Luka Ivanusec of Croatia, Yankuba Minteh of Gambia or Netherlands winger Calvin Stengs out of position.

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Still, the hosts, who reached the Conference League final two seasons ago and the Europa League quarter-final last season, are strong favourites to prevail against opponents who have won just one Champions League group game in the past 10 years.

But Rodgers is far from despondent about the players who are absent or daunted by the prospect of facing Feyenoord. He has emphasised to his charges in the build-up to this match that they can silence their doubters and enjoy a memorable campaign if they believe in their own abilities. 

“I said to the boys, everything is possible,” he said. “Don’t think so much about consequences or what people might say about budgets or being a pot four team, all of that.

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“I think we can surprise. I think we can come into this tournament and surprise. Of course, the game is about levels, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t surprise teams. That’s the mentality I want to give the players, so they can go and play with no fear. But we have to be clever with it.

“There will be moments when we are going to have press really high and be aggressive and impose our style on the game. Defensively, there are going to be times when we are defending in emergency mode. We saw that at Ibrox recently where everybody was against you and we had to be ready for that mentally. It’s a mental shift. 

“But then you have to have that conviction to impose the way you play. And that’s what we aim to do. We know we have a dangerous front line with speed and ability in midfield so we have to maximise that.”

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Lifelong supporter Rodgers is well aware of the background this fixture – but he is determined for Celtic to write a new chapter in their own story this season. 

“The historical element to this club and to this game is amazing,” he said. “Back in 1970, the club were going for their second European Cup in the space of a few years. What an achievement that would have been. To then lose in extra time was probably a galling experience.

“But that is success. Integral to that success is failure. It’s a part of it. For us here, we are at the beginning of a journey that excites me. like I did first time around, we create our own magic. We take the supporters on a journey that can hopefully give them memories for a lifetime.”

If Reo Hatate, the Japanese midfielder who returned from a month on the sidelines with a hamstring strain at the weekend, is named in the Celtic starting line-up it will increase the treble winners’ hopes of recording an improbable win. But a draw would not be a bad start. Avoiding a heavy defeat could even be a positive of sorts.