Who are Linfield? Everything you need to know about Celtic’s Champions League opponents

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The Scottish Premiership champions are set for a tough trip to Northern Ireland as they look to take a step closer to the group stage

Celtic will take on Linfield in the Champions League second qualifying round after the Northern Irish champions overcame La Fiorita in the first qualifying round.

The Blues just about managed to book their showdown against the Scottish giants after beating the San Marino side 1-0 on aggregate, surviving a nervy second leg in Serravalle following a narrow 1-0 win in the first leg.

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It means a trip back to Northern Ireland beckons for Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers, who hails from Carnlough - a village situated just over 30 miles outside of Belfast.

Champions League Second qualifying round
Game Linfield vs Celtic
Dates First Leg: July 14, Second Leg: July 19
Times First Leg: 17:00 BST, Second Leg: 19:45 BST

Linfield will host the first leg at Windsor Park on Friday, July 14, with the second leg scheduled to take place at Celtic Park on Wednesday, July 19.

Uniquely, the first leg will not take place during the usual Tuesday/Wednesday slot set aside for such fixtures due to the fact that July 11 and 12 are notable dates in the Orange Order 'marching season'. The decision to change the date was reached following discussions between UEFA, the two clubs and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

"There’s no secret that it causes difficulties for us and for the local authorities in terms of the timing of the game, with it being in the holiday season and the marching season,” Linfield chairman Roy McGivern told the Guardian. “But we’ve had very good cooperation with both Celtic and the PSNI just to make sure that, if we do progress, we can have a tremendous footballing occasion and that’s what we’ll hopefully be talking about."

Following the initial draw in June, Celtic also confirmed that no away tickets would be made available to their fans for the first leg.

Goal brings you all you need to know about the Northern Irish club ahead of the tie.


WHO ARE LINFIELD?


Founded in 1886, Linfield are the reigning Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) Premiership champions, having clinched a record 52nd title in 2016-17. The Belfast-based side are the most successful club in Northern Ireland, with a haul of 43 Irish Cups to add to their league dominance. Globally, only Celtic's bitter rivals Rangers have more domestic title wins.

Affectionately known as The Blues by their fans, Linfield are currently managed by former Northern Ireland and Rangers striker David Healy, who assumed the reins in October 2015. After a disappointing maiden campaign, he steered the club to a treble in 2017.

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A semi-professional team, Linfield are ranked 314th - a massive 266 places behind Celtic - in the most recent UEFA club ranking.

In modern times, they have never progressed past the second qualifying round of the Champions League, but they did manage to reach the quarter-final of the 1966-67 European Cup - a tournament eventually won by Celtic.

Rivalries and sectarianism

Linfield have been fined by the Irish Football Association (IFA) on a number of occasions following incidents in which their supporters were said to have engaged in sectarian chanting, particularly during games against their fierce rivals Cliftonville and Glentoran.

However, the club have consistently condemned the singing of provocative and offensive songs, warning fans who are found to do so that they will be banned from attending future games.


LINFIELD'S KEY PLAYERS


Roy Carroll Linfield Sean Maguire Cork City 07072016

The vast majority of Linfield's squad will be unknown to Celtic fans, but many will be familiar with goalkeeper Roy Carroll. The Northern Ireland international previously played for Manchester United, as well as West Ham, Olympiacos and Rangers.

Other Northern Ireland internationals in the Linfield squad include former Ipswich Town defender Chris Casement and midfielder Jamie Mulgrew, who was crowned Ulster Footballer of the Year in April.

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Striker Andy Waterworth, who scored 20 league goals last season, counts Scottish side Hamilton Academical among his former clubs, while forward Kirk Millar has Football League experience from his time at Oldham Athletic.

Nineteen-year-old Paul Smyth is considered one of the brightest talents in Northern Ireland and was named Young Footballer of the Year, while new signing Jordan Stewart scored the decisive goal against La Fiorita in the first qualifying round.


THE RANGERS CONNECTION


Salim Kerkar David Healy Rangers 2012

Linfield have a strong association with Celtic's fierce rivals Rangers and the teams have worked together in the past, playing a number of friendly fixtures.

In 2012, the Ibrox club played a fundraising game against the Blues, which helped to keep the Northern Irish club in business, and in 2016, the teams faced each other at Windsor Park to mark the testimonial of current Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew.

Speaking ahead of the game, Linfield manager David Healy referred to his side's association with Rangers and said that they would not shy away from it when they play against the Bhoys.

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"We’ll fly the flag for the Linfield-Rangers connection but I am under no illusions how difficult it will be," Healy told reporters. "Celtic proved last season how good they are with the players they have and the way Brendan manages. It’s Mount Everest to climb but we are unbeaten since January and we have just achieved two clean sheets in European football which is hard."

Interestingly, Healy, who was a boyhood Rangers fan and had a brief stint with the Glasgow giants, provoked the ire of Celtic supporters back in 2008, during his time at Fulham. The striker celebrated with a flute gesture during a friendly game against the Hoops - a throwback to Paul Gascoigne's controversial celebration.

However, he was quick to apologise for the incident, telling UTV: "I am supposed to be a role model and I can only apologise, I can guarantee from my point of view it will never happen again."


WHERE DO LINFIELD PLAY?


Windsor Park general view

Linfield play their games at Windsor Park, which is located on Donegall Road in Belfast and is also the home of the Northern Ireland national team.

First opened in 1905, Windsor has been heavily redeveloped in recent years and, with a capacity of 18,434, it is one of the largest sports venues in Northern Ireland, similar in size to Ulster Rugby's Kingspan Stadium.

According to the Irish Football Association's website, the stadium has 133 wheelchair accessible spaces and an equal number of adjacent seats for personal assistants.

It is located roughly six miles away from George Best Belfast City airport and about 20 miles from Belfast International Airport.

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