Celtic hopes to keep home record in Champions League
GLASGOW - Agence France-Presse
Celtic’s Adam Matthews celebrates his sides fourth goal with teammates Scott Brown (L), Gary Hooper (2nd L) and Joe Ledley (R) at Celtic Park Stadium. REUTERS photo
Celtic manager Neil Lennon hopes his side can continue their unbeaten home record in Europe this season when they take on Juventus in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash at Parkhead on Tuesday.
The Glasgow giants have seen off HJK Helsinki, Helsingborgs, Benefica, Spartak Moscow and the mighty Barcelona at Celtic Park this season in their best European run since 2008.
Lennon knows they face a mammoth task if they are to get past the Italian league leaders and qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time.
But he hopes his side can take inspiration from their support and fine home form to build up a decent advantage to take to Turin in three weeks’ time.
“Everyone is excited about this, particularly the supporters because they have been waiting a few years,” the Celtic manager said.
“The crowd spurs our players on and can intimidate other teams. Parkhead is a fortress again and that’s what I wanted.”
Lennon has already been part of a Celtic team that stunned Juventus, playing in a 4-3 win over Marcello Lippi’s side in 2001.
But the Hoops boss, who watched Juventus take on Genoa a couple of weeks ago, reckons the current crop of Serie A stars are even better.
“Lippi’s team had more flair with Trezeguet, del Piero, Nedved and Davids. This team is more workmanlike, without being disrespectful to them,” Lennon said.
“But in the final third they are clinical and they are probably also better defensively than Barcelona. They are strong, organised and very difficult to break down.
The Celtic boss will have almost a full squad to pick from after he revealed James Forrest and Emilio Izaguirre will be fit while Georgios Samaras will be given every chance.
Keeper Fraser Forster returned after a three match absence in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle but defender Efe Ambrose is likely to have to make do with a place on the bench after the Nigerian took part in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final in South Africa. Many of Lennon’s players have come in for plaudits with their European performances this season but the manager singled out Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper and Charlie Mulgrew as big players for him in the match.
“At any set-piece, with the quality of delivery and height we have, we can be a threat to anyone,” Lennon said.
“Charlie is very important. People wonder why I play him in all the games. It’s not just for his delivery, Charlie can play. He is brave on the ball and has a goal in him. Victor brings strength, power and reads the game very well.