Friday 26 May 2017

Lennon has open plan for Udinese

Roddy Forsyth

For which European tournament did Celtic qualify on a 6-0 aggregate, despite scoring only one goal? And in which competition do they fly out this morning to complete their group stage schedule -- without having any idea whether or not they will have to play more games in the same section?

The Europa League might well confound pub quiz competitors in years to come, but it can safely be said of Celtic's current campaign in Group I that it has been as vexatious as rewarding. The Parkhead club yesterday revealed that there would be no appeal against the €15,000 fine imposed by Uefa for "illicit chanting" -- specifically pro-IRA chants, it is understood -- at the 3-1 home victory over Rennes on November 3.

Uefa became involved when their delegate was informed of the chants by the police match commander. "The heavy fine imposed by Uefa is an indication of the seriousness with which it treats such matters," said the Celtic chief executive, Peter Lawwell.

"We would reiterate our own position that, however small a minority is involved, such chanting is not welcome at Celtic Football Club. Clearly, it is very disappointing and a source of real regret among our supporters that Celtic's proud history of exemplary conduct has been tarnished in this way by such a tiny minority.

"However, this is a clear warning that such behaviour will not be tolerated and together, Celtic Football Club and our supporters will do all we can do to ensure that this incident is not repeated.

"We would like to thank our supporters for their magnificent conduct since the match against Rennes.

"We are proud of the fantastic and positive reputation we have established across Europe over many years, and the club and our fans will be doing all we can to ensure that this is protected."

Although the club have proposed meeting the Green Brigade -- the supporters group against whom most complaints about offensive singing and chanting have been directed -- and although Lennon declared himself willing to hear their point of view, no such get-together has taken place.

Meanwhile, FC Sion -- who beat Celtic 3-1 on aggregate in the Europa League qualifiers, but who had a 6-0 aggregate defeat recorded against them and were ejected from the tournament for fielding ineligible players -- are likely to have wait until December 23 to discover if the Court of Arbitration in Sport has ruled that their protracted fight to be reinstated has been successful.

If so, Celtic may yet have to play another tie -- possibly two -- as Uefa determine which teams from Group I will go through to the knockout stage. As it is, Lennon and his squad must work on the assumption that tomorrow's game with Udinese in Italy is their final fixture of the group and that only one outcome will take them into the last 32.

With Atletico Madrid having already qualified from the section, Udinese -- with a three-point advantage over Celtic -- are favourites to follow them. But if the Hoops can conjure a rare victory on the road in Europe then they would go through at the expense of the Serie A side on the basis of their head-to-head encounters, Udinese having already drawn 1-1 in the east end of Glasgow on September 29.

"We do have to win it," said Lennon. "A draw or a defeat is no good to us. We have to be very respectful of the opposition, who, as we speak, are top of Serie A, so they are obviously an excellent side. I think we can set up to be a little bit more adventurous with our own approach."

Celtic have been buoyed by a run of six successive domestic victories which has restored their championship challenge, but the manager cautioned that Samir Handanovic represents a formidable obstacle in goal for Udinese and that Antonio Di Natale -- if he plays -- is a particular threat. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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