BRENDAN Rodgers last night said Celtic had vastly improved how they approached the annual test of qualifying for the Champions League but that his history-making players still had no right to expect a place in the group stage.

Should the Parkhead outfit negotiate their way past four ties and eight matches, a journey which begins tonight against FC Alashkert in Armenia, it would be the first time the club would have successfully made it through the qualifiers for a third year in a row.

Captain Scott Brown is fit having picked up a knock against Shamrock Rovers on Saturday and Rodgers is delighted with the fitness of his squad; most of them reported back for pre-season training three weeks ago.

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But the manager, while happy with the preparation, issued a warning about what could lie ahead in this European campaign.

Rodgers said: “I think year on year we’ve got better at dealing with the qualifiers. It was only really the 20 minute period away in Astana last year where we found it difficult. Apart from that, the players throughout all the games have been very, very good.

“This year we go into it again. You’re not entitled to qualify, you have to earn the right, and that’s something we always speak about. We’ll work hard over this phase of the qualification to get through because it’s something we really want to do.

“You always know there will be hairy moments along the way. But we want to be in it. Potentially we have a hectic schedule of games ahead of us but it’s where the competition is. We’re proud to be in it, we earned the right to be in it, and we’re working to hopefully qualify again. To do three on the spin would be absolutely brilliant.”

This match kicks off at 8pm local time in the 14-000 all-seater Republican Stadium in Yerevan, which is expected to be full, but even then the heat and humidity will be an issue. It is predicted to be at most 33 degrees at game-time which is right on the limit of UEFA’s rules for the temperature, 32 degrees, to be too high for a game to take place.

Rodgers has told his players to be mindful of the conditions and that Celtic’s usual style of play based on intensity and pressure will have to be curtailed on this one occasions.

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He said: “I think the tempo and rhythm of the game will be different. The conditions mean you can’t play with a real intensity over the course of the 90 minutes. So it’s about how you build the game and quicken it up when you get near the opponents’ 18-yard box.

“It’s educated pressure in this type of scenarios. We’re nowhere near our full levels of fitness at this stage of the season so there is only so much you can do anyway. It’s about getting through these games, that’s important

“Our style our football helps us when we come into these situations. We want to take care of the ball, look to keep it, but look to penetrate when we have it. In the conditions, you don’t want to chase the ball, so look after it when you have it.”

Celtic will seek out referee Danilo Grujic to ensure the players are properly protected during the match.

Rodgers revealed: “We’ll speak to the referee about water breaks. We did that in our pre-season when we played when we were away in Austria. Obviously in these conditions and health and safety of the players is important because it’s a factor, so we’ll see what we can do.

“Players get on with it. But what makes it difficult is when you’re not accustomed to it. I’d say there is a certain temperature when it becomes dangerous, and I don’t think this is. You just need to manage the football game.

“It’s a different type of football. But it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to. You may go to World Cups and other situations as players where you have to deal with the conditions.

“But we’ve prepared well and we’re at the best possible place we can be at this stage of pre-season. But there is a challenge with the heat – you can feel it just walking about. But we’ll look to manage that hopefully.”