independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Lennon hails miracle after Hoops prove critics wrong

Celtic manager Neil Lennon celebrates at the final whistle

Neil Lennon believes he got the last laugh on his doubters after Kris Commons' dramatic late penalty secured Celtic a place in the Champions League last 16.

"It means the world to me as a young manager in my first year in the Champions League to qualify with 10 points. I am very proud of the players, they have performed a miracle," said the Celtic boss.

"People laughed at me when I said at the start that my target was to qualify.

"No one gave us a prayer going into this group but we have qualified and deservedly so. It's a monumental achievement. I think you could see the players progressing last year. We have some really talented players who I felt could play at European level.

"I didn't want them just to be remembered for beating Barcelona, but we have beaten Barcelona and qualified for the last 16 and that is a fantastic feather to have in your cap."

Celtic could face Manchester United, Malaga, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke or PSG in the knockout stages.

And former Hoops skipper Lennon joked: "I would take Malaga – it would be nice this time of the year over there."

Tough

He then said: "Seriously, it is going to be really tough, against the top teams in the groups.

"You just don't know what shape teams are going to be in two or three months' time. But we are there, we are going to enjoy it and we want to progress as far as we can in the competition.

"Who knows where it can take you? The spirit is fantastic, we have some quality players, they have put everything into the group and they have grown as the campaign has gone on and some of them have enhanced their reputations no end."

Lennon admitted he could not bear to watch Commons to take the crucial spot-kick.

"I didn't watch it, I turned my back on it," said the Northern Irishman. "Kris showed great mental strength to take it. I'm sure he was aware of the significance of the penalty, but I thought he had a fantastic game."

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