Celtic within reach of knockout stages

Published Tuesday, 20 November 2012
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The knockout stages of the Champions League are within reach for Lurgan-born Neil Lennon's Celtic side - but first, they need to impress against Portuguese side Benfica in Lisbon on Tuesday night.

Celtic within reach of knockout stages
Celtic's Neil Lennon, pictured at a Champions League press conference. (© UTV)

The Scottish champions are out to continue their success on the big stage, after their 2-1 victory over Barcelona which gave them a chance of progression in the tournament.

And if they can now pull off a win at the Estadio da Luz, their place would be booked in the next round. Even a scoring draw could be enough - if Spartak Moscow lose out to Group G leaders Barcelona in Russia.

"I am well aware that this game will be as tough as Barcelona, if not tougher," Lennon said. "Benfica are a formidable team at home and their domestic form is excellent."

This was always going to be a pivotal game for us anyway, regardless of the two Barcelona games.

Neil Lennon, Celtic

Lennon's Benfica counterpart, Jorge Jesus, said that the home support would play a big part in determining the outcome of the game.

"They (Celtic) are stronger at home, where there is an extraordinary atmosphere - an example for all football clubs," he said.

"But they will be playing in a similar stadium, where the (Benfica) fans help the team a lot."

For Celtic though, Lisbon holds a special history which could help inspire the players to push for the result they need.

It was in the Portuguese capital in 1967 that Celtic triumphed over Inter Milan to become Kings of Europe, with the players involved being branded the Lisbon Lions.

"It's always special for the club - 1967 was a pivotal point in our history and we all aspire to reach those heights again," Lennon said.

"It´s just very poignant that we are playing again in Lisbon. We will train at the stadium again and let these players have a feel of what is a special piece of history for our club."

While Lennon says his side will play for the win, rather than adopting an overly defensive style, he's under no illusions about the mountain they still have to climb.

"We have done very well and given ourselves a great foundation in the group. But that´s all," he said. "We have two huge games left in the competition now."

We will not walk alone.

Jorge Jesus

Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons are set to feature, after not seeing the full 90 minutes of action in Celtic's weekend win over Aberdeen.

But one of the trio Gary Hooper, Scott Brown and Joe Ledley looks likely to miss out.

Lennon had been confident they would all be match fit after they returned to training on Sunday, but it's feared one of them will - at best - start on the bench.

There's no confirmation which of the three is the doubt.

Hooper missed the Aberdeen game with a hamstring injury, while Brown and Ledley were suffering with hip and groin injuries respectively.

Benfica will be boosted by the return of their captain Luisão, back from his two-month suspension for physical aggression against the referee in a pre-season friendly against Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Kick-off in the Benfica v Celtic clash at the Estadio da Luz is at 7.45pm.

© UTV News
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