Celtic news

Lennon relishing UCL challenge

September 19, 2012
By Kevin Palmer

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has backed his Champions League underdogs to cause a few shocks as they return to the competition for the first time in four years.

Neil Lennon
PA PhotosNeil Lennon wants Celtic to embrace the challenge

Lennon said guiding Celtic to the group stage - thanks to a play-off round victory over Helsingborg - was the "greatest achievement" of his career, and now he is targeting an opening Group G win against Benfica at Parkhead.

"We are not here just to make up the numbers, to be the also-rans, and we get a chance to prove as much in this first game against Benfica," he said.

"These are heady days for Celtic once again, and I don't think people will look at us as an easy game just because we are coming from the Scottish Premier League.

"A game at Parkhead is historically tough for any European side, but we know we are up against very tough opponents in Group D - Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow. It doesn't get much tougher than that.

"However, I'm looking forward to it. I went to hell and back for around six weeks at the start of the season trying to get this team into the group stages, and it's great for everyone associated with Celtic that we are back in the Champions League.

"Getting through that play-off was one of the hardest challenges of my life, but we are here now and have to make the most of it. We have some good footballers at this club, and I want them to express themselves in this competition.

"It is a privilege for me to stand here and manage this great club, but to do it in the Champions League group stages is beyond my wildest expectations."

Lennon said he was looking forward to the meetings with Barcelona, adding: "You might say we wanted to avoid Barcelona in the group stage draw, but I don't see it like that.

"When you get into the Champions League, playing against the best is what it's all about. I want to try and match top, top teams like Benfica and Barcelona, and I'm sure my players are no different. You can, watch and watch and watch a team like Barcelona and try to work out how to play against them, but we will get our chance.

"We are in this group to try and win it, however unlikely that might seem. All the pressure is off us now we are in the group stages, so let's have a go and see where it takes us."