Brendan Rodgers saluted his Celtic players after they completed a commanding 3-0 victory with two late goals in the first leg of their opening Champions League qualifier against Alashkert.
The Scottish champions had to cope with the searing heat in Yerevan but led 1-0 at the interval thanks to an added-time goal from Odsonne Edouard, who made his loan deal from Paris Saint-Germain permanent over the summer in a club-record transfer.
The French striker redirected a wayward James Forrest drive into the net for his first European goal for the Hoops, but the visitors refused to simply defend their lead, and surely booked their place in the second qualifier against Valur Reykjavik or Rosenborg when Forrest scored a second in the 81st minute before Callum McGregor added a third in the 90th minute.
“It is a huge credit to the players and medical staff,” Rodgers said. “We know we have a long way to go in terms of getting to full capacity but certainly at this stage, to show that hunger and desire to continue to work to the very end, it was a real winning difference.
“They kept pushing and kept working and they got their rewards. So it was a great credit to how hard they have worked fitness-wise.
“A clean sheet was important because as you start to tire in the game you can maybe lose a goal cheaply. But we didn’t do that, we concentrated well and scored three very good goals.”
Rodgers believes his side will be all the better from working through the testing conditions against the champions of Armenia.
“It is breathless really,” Rodgers added. “You sense it just standing in it. I thought they coped with it very well.
“They will really benefit from that game in terms of fitness and it sets us up well for the next leg.
“It is just a case of picking the team to win the game but also to get the players developing their fitness.”
Rodgers was pleased with the contribution of Edouard, regardless of his massive fee, and heaped praise on McGregor.
He said: “It (first goal) was great timing and a really good finish. He doesn’t need to justify his price tag. He is an outstanding talent and he just gets on with his football.
“He [McGregor] played with a lot of authority and personality. He is a real attacking midfield player.
“We have different types. Browny [Scott Brown] is a defensive one, Olivier [Ntcham] is a passing midfield player and you have Callum who is an attacking midfield player.
“He can go forward, break lines and score goals and he does it very regularly and in big games now. He is a very valuable player to our squad.”