Manager excited at Euro glamour ties
By: Laura Brannan on 30 Aug, 2012 18:36
NEIL Lennon will be scheduling trips to Spain, Portugal and Russia into his diary after Celtic drew three of the UEFA Champions League´s top clubs.
He will lead his side into clashes with Barcelona and Benfica, both teams he has lined up against himself when he was a Celtic player, and then Spartak Moscow, his former team-mate Aiden McGeady´s current club.
And the manager is delighted with the way Group G has shaped up. He told the post-draw press conference: "This is what we´ve worked so hard for and it´s part of the progression that we wanted them to take on. It´s very, very exciting for us all."
But despite the difficult ties which await the Hoops, he isn´t taking his side along just to make up the numbers. The Irishman wants to embrace the competition and for the Hoops give it their best shot amongst some of the best sides in the world.
When asked if third place would be Celtic´s aim, the manager replied: "No. It´s to win it.
"It´s maybe unrealistic but why would you want to finish third? I think Benfica will be strong, and Spartak Moscow will be strong, but anything can happen in the group stages, particularly if we start well."
He knows Celtic will be underdogs going into the group stages of the competition, but it's not something that bothers the manager.
"All the pressure was on last night and the previous round," he explained. "Our supporters will take a view that it´s brilliant to be back, so let´s go and enjoy it and see where it takes us. Beforehand, it was all about having to get in and I think that expectation will be lifted from the players now."
Barcelona are one of the best sides in the world, and in Lionel Messi have the world's best player. The manager is under no illusions as to what kind of threat the Catalan giants will pose.
But having been a part of the side which beat Barca 1-0 in 2004, he knows anything is possible at a packed Paradise.
"It says something for the atmosphere and the way the team responds to the environment," he said. "But I think they are favourites, if not joint favourites, to win the competition.
"How you play against them, well, you can watch them and watch them and watch them as much as you like but they´ve got some of the best individuals in the world currently and probably some of all time. It´s a great game for our players to be involved in."
Meanwhile, the manager was delighted with Scott Brown´s contribution against Helsingborgs, despite having to take an injection to play through the pain. As a result he has given his captain some time to rest, meaning he will miss this weekend´s clash with Hibernian and Scotland´s two World Cup qualifying matches next week.
"He won´t play at the weekend and he´ll have to be rested for maybe two or three weeks," he said. "We´ll maybe not see him again until the first round of games in the Champions League.
"He had an injection before last night´s game and played through the pain very, very well. He has varying signs of pain on different days and it´s just a question of how we manage him now in the short-term future.
"Unfortunately for him he´s going to miss the Scotland games because he always looks forward to playing for his country but we´ve been having to nurse him through the last few weeks and he now needs a break."
Georgios Samaras will also miss the visit of Hibs while Thomas Rogne and Charlie Mulgrew are doubts.