Champions League: Romanian referee for Celtic-Astra second leg

The inexperienced Istvan Kovacs will be in charge of the crucial third qualifying round match at Parkhead.

Celtic players huddle before KO (v Malmo CL PO 1st leg - 19th August 2015)
Wait: Celtic have not reached the Champions League group stage since they advanced to the last 16 under Neil Lennon in 2012-13 (Picture from BT Sport)

ROMANIAN referee Istvan Kovacs has been confirmed to take charge of Celtic’s Champions League third qualifying round second leg against Astana.

The 31-year-old will be in the middle when the Scottish champions look to progress from the finely-poised tie to the play-off round with victory at Celtic Park on Wednesday night (KO 19:45 BST).

Leigh Griffiths rescued Brendan Rodgers’s team with a late equaliser in last week’s first leg to secure a 1-1 draw in the Kazakhstan capital.

It may be viewed by some as a risky appointment by Uefa at this stage of the competition as Kovacs prepares for his Champions League debut in Glasgow.

He has overseen a number of Europa League qualifiers but only two group games – including Everton’s 1-0 defeat by Kuban Krasnodar at Goodison Park in the 2014-15 season.

Lacking in experience of high-profile occasions, Kovacs has regularly officiated Under 17s, Under 19s and Under 21s World Cup and European qualifiers, as well as Uefa Youth League matches.

Last week, he was in charge of the SuperCup Final in his home country as Astra beat CFR Cluj 1-0 – his first game since May 26.

Kovacs, who has been on the Fifa list since 2010, is slowly moving up the ranks having refereed Greece’s 2-1 friendly win over Montenegro in March.

He will be assisted by fellow countrymen Vasile Florin Marinescu and Mihai Ovidiu Artene, and fourth official Pavel Cristian Balaj.

An established name in Romanian Liga 1, Kovacs received 23 matches last season and proved he can be a strict disciplinarian by issuing nine red cards in his final 14 games.

However, in October 2014, he came under fire for failing to show red cards for violent tackles after two players needed hospital treatment during FCM Targu Mures’s 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest.

Steaua accused Kovacs of influencing the outcome of the match and the Romanian media described his performance as ‘shameful’.

Celtic knocked out Gibraltarian part-timers Lincoln Red Imps 3-1 on aggregate in the previous round and, should they get past Astana, will need to negotiate another two-legged tie to secure their place in the group stages for the first time since 2013.


MEANWHILE…

Anthony Taylor referee (Derby v Man Utd FA Cup - 29th Jan 2016)
Familiar face: Altrincham fan Taylor, who has been a Fifa referee since 2013, has officiated a League Cup Final, FA Trophy Final and FA Cup semi-final (Picture from BBC Sport)

Elsewhere, England’s Anthony Taylor has been assigned to the second leg between Greek side PAOK Salonika and Dutch side Ajax.

The 37-year-old, from Cheshire, will take charge of Wednesday’s match at the Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki (KO 19:45 BST).

He will be ably assisted by linesmen Gary Beswick and Lee Betts, while the fourth official is Craig Pawson – who will referee Sunday’s Community Shield season-opener at Wembley.

The first leg last week at the Amsterdam Arena finished 1-1.

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