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Striker Georgios Samaras is sure Aalborg BK's lack of top-level experience will count for little when they meet his Celtic FC side in Group E, maintaining that "every club in the UEFA Champions League is a top club".
Just two members of the visitors' squad have performed before on European club football's highest platform – and one of them, Denmark full-back Kasper Bøgelund, will miss the curtain-raiser through injury. However, despite the disparity in pedigree, Samaras is adamant he and his Celtic colleagues must afford the Danish champions the utmost respect.
"It's our first game and it's really important we take three points, but we know it will be very tough," the 23-year-old said. "People think that, because we are playing a Danish team, it will be easy, but every club in the UEFA Champions League is a top club. We are all aware of how hard we must work to win the game. We have watched videos of Aalborg and we have to be careful against them."
In Celtic's favour is their form going into Matchday 1 of their 2008/09 continental campaign. Greek international Samaras was instrumental in Saturday's emphatic 4-2 victory at Motherwell FC, with his double strike taking his season tally to five goals from three Premier League games. He believes his side's confidence could not be higher, although referring to AaB's 2-0 weekend home defeat by AGF Århus, he also argues that domestic results in the run-up to European matches can be misleading.
"I really feel we're ready for the game," Samaras added. "Personally, I feel in great condition and I think the whole team are in really good shape, but form is not everything. I know Aalborg lost on Saturday, but I don't think they will approach this match thinking about losing in the league. The advantage they have is that, because people speak about them being the weakest team in the group, there is no pressure on them. They can come here and play with complete freedom; we will have to be wary of that."
Samaras grew up watching Panathinaikos FC and Olympiacos CFP perform in front of fervent home crowds in the UEFA Champions League through the 1990s. He reckons the atmosphere at Celtic Park is every bit as intimidating and feels it could be a significant factor in spurring the hosts to an opening-night victory. "Everyone knows the atmosphere at Celtic is incredible," he said. "I've played at Olympiacos's ground in Athens, in front of 70,000 people, and I think that's the closest thing to what you feel at Celtic. Perhaps Aalborg won't be used to that and it's something that could play in our favour. Right now, our target is to reach the last 16 again and, to do that, it's vital we get off to a winning start."
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