“THE answer to question number seven is Lee Casciaro.”

Remember this. It will come up in a sports quiz some time down the local. You will win your team a point, and a good one at that, by recalling which Lincoln Red Imps player scored the only goal in Brendan Rodgers’ first game in charge of Celtic.

Thursday is the two-year anniversary of one of the most, certainly at the time, embarrassing results in Celtic (Scottish football) history, although since they won the tie and subsequently reached the group stage, hindsight has played down its importance.

Read more: Callum McGregor hails Celtic firepower as French duo get set for Champions League​

And, anyway, then came Rangers a year later and what happened in Luxembourg.

Two years. It seems a lot longer since a team including Efe Ambrose, Erik Sviatchenko, Ryan Christie, Saidy Janko and Nadir Ciftci as a substitute endured “Shock on the Rock” or “The Shock of Gibraltar.” Both headlines just had to be written.

A lot, an awful lot, has happened since then. History has been made by Rodgers, Celtic are the richest club in Scottish football history, they have a left-back ‘worth’ £25m and the stadium is full, more or less, every home game.

But something hasn’t changed.

Celtic need European football, preferably Champions League football. It gives everyone a boost, not just the bank balance, and this season, far more than the previous two, it’s going to be more difficult than ever to reach the group stage which this time is going to earn the Parkhead club £40m.

If Celtic get through these eight qualifiers, it starts tomorrow in Armenia against Alashkert, you can all-but guarantee 10 in a row, and do not let anyone at Ibrox tell you otherwise that the reason Steven Gerrard was brought in was to stop this.

The only negative is that a prolonged run in Europe, either Champions or Europa League, does take its toll on the players. We saw that last season. When Rodgers was forced to chop and change, those who came in weren’t adequate stand-ins.

That is something which has changed.

Read more: Callum McGregor hails Celtic firepower as French duo get set for Champions League​

Mikael Lustig, Dedryck Boyata, Leigh Griffiths maybe, Nir Bitton, John McGinn (this will happen) and Tom Rogic are still not available for a wide variety of reasons and, yes, the squad which departed from Glasgow Airport yesterday is five times as strong as the one Rodgers first had to work with.

Does this mean Celtic will coast through the next eight games? Well.. they were made to work for their place in the group stage in Azerbaijan, Israel, Kazakhstan and last year in Norway when a James Forrest goal was all which separated Celtic and Rosenborg over 180 minutes.

It is probably Rosenborg next, they should take care of Valur Reykjavik, and the perennial Norwegian champions have apparently strengthened over the past 12 months. 

There is so much to lose. Should Celtic not make the group stage, one, maybe two, or their key men will leave, albeit for big money. One more crack at the very best might keep Kieran Tierney and Moussa Dembele for one more season.

Also, the longer Celtic stay in the Champions League, the longer Rodgers will stick around. If only this was just about the football.

It was 20 years ago, or seasons as football fans have it, since I covered Celtic exclusively for the Evening Times. Back then, my joke was that they would be knocked out as soon as they drew a team any of us had heard of. 

Read more: Callum McGregor hails Celtic firepower as French duo get set for Champions League​

Martin O’Neill changed everything and his predecessors, some of them, enjoyed what for a Scottish football club is tangible success when facing down Johnny Foreigner.

Rodgers has witnessed a record defeat, 7-0 to Barcelona, a record home defeat, the 5-0 to PSG – and six points, one win from a dozen group stage games isn’t brilliant.

Sure, the two draws have not been kind, but I am afraid to say that one of the perceived ‘easy’ teams plays in green and white hoops. However, for all that Neymar and Messi ran riot against them, Celtic always emerge from these chastening experiences better. Players improve when up against the best. Every coach in the world will tell you that.

It would not be a complete disaster should they fail, even if they don’t make even the Europa League. It’s just that having completed two domestic trebles in a row, the lack of the big nights under floodlights at Celtic Park would make the upcoming domestic season a lot duller.

Only a genuine challenge from Rangers would spice things up a bit but, remind me when I’m proved wrong, I honestly can’t see that happening.
UEFA have made qualification more difficult and, because of this, Celtic getting into the same draw as Real Madrid in August would be one of Rodgers’ biggest successes.

It is Alashkert first and this being Celtic, even Rodgers’s Celtic, they are more than capable (or is it culpable?) of giving their supporters a scare or three. However, this first round, and it’s a disgrace they have to play in it, ought to be taken care of simply enough.

And then there will be six games and a lot of travelling. 

Let the fun and games begin.