PHILADELPHIA – In their opening three 2012 Herbalife World Football Challenge matches, Real Madrid have outscored their opponents, 12-3, and are fresh off a 5-1 thrashing of Italian powers AC Milan at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
Those results beg the question: What can Scottish champions Celtic FC do to stop the Spanish goal-scoring machine in Saturday’s final WFC fixture at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field (1:30 pm ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes)?
“I don’t think we should focus too much on them,” Celtic center back Thomas Rogne told MLSsoccer.com on Friday afternoon. “They’re hard to stop anyway. We should just focus on ourselves and try to play good football.”
Indeed, for the Celtic players, Saturday’s game is less about trying to beat Real Madrid and more about trying to gauge their own level when matched up against the reigning Spanish La Liga champs.
Preview: Real Madrid vs. Celtic
“Real Madrid is probably the best side in the world and they have some of the best players in the world,” said the 22-year-old Rogne, who last came to Philly in 2010 when MLS side Philadelphia Union beat Celtic, 1-0, at PPL Park. “It’s not about the results. It’s about trying to play our own game and see how we cope with them and see how far behind them we are. We’ll try to get something out of the game.”
Celtic manager Neil Lennon agreed with the assessment that José Mourinho’s men are currently in top form, calling them the “best side in the world currently.” But despite the significant challenge, he said he will try to give a few of the club’s young players some minutes in preparation for their Scottish Premier League championship defense.
He also stressed the importance of playing in front of Celtic’s large American fan base.
“It’s my third time in Philadelphia and I absolutely love this city,” Lennon said. “I’m glad to see kids here in a Celtic kit. It warms my heart that the club is expanding and touching people across the Atlantic.”
The World Football Challenge aside, the most important Celtic-related news of the day probably came when they drew Sweden’s Helsingborgs in the final Champions League playoff round. The Scottish champs dispatched Finnish champs HJK Helsinki to set up the clash and will now look to use Saturday’s match against Real Madrid as a springboard to their first leg vs. the Swedish champs on Aug. 21.
“The Champions League is something we desperately want,” Rogne said. “Helsingborgs is a good team. They’re doing really well in Sweden. They’re quite a small club, but they play good football. It’s going to be a tough game.”
E-mail Dave Zeitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.