Friday 22 September 2017

We have to have belief that we can qualify – Lennon

Roddy Forsyth

Last season's Champions League adventure came to a shuddering end for Celtic when they lost 5-0 on aggregate to Juventus in the first knockout round.

On Wednesday they return to Italy to commence their second successive Champions League group stage campaign against AC Milan in the San Siro.

Neil Lennon and his players already have six games behind them, stretching back to July 17, when they met Cliftonville at Solitude on the first of three away qualifiers, all played on artificial surfaces.

"That was really hard. I can't emphasise how difficult it was," Lennon said.

"There is an expectation that you should win, but we've seen it before – you can have one bad night and that's it. With the way things are in Scotland it means so much to the football fraternity that we have Champions League football. That carries a big responsibility and pressure."

Celtic's reward was the fourth-seeded place in the only group to consist solely of former tournament winners. Aside from Milan, Celtic will face Barcelona and Ajax.

CRAVING

"I think the fans are craving this," said Lennon. "You couldn't have got three more glamorous games. We have to have the belief that we can qualify. I'm pleased with the squad now. The game might come a bit early for a couple of them – Nir Biton is not here and will meet up with us on Tuesday. Virgil Van Dijk and Dirk Boerrigter have settled in and the core I've got, I can trust.

"The players have the bit between their teeth too. They don't have any real fear or nerves over going to these places. They are experienced international players."

After last season's heroics, which began with victory in Russia over Spartak Moscow and continued with toe-to-toe encounters with Barca expectation has been heaped upon Celtic. However, opponents will now know what to expect, especially in the east end of Glasgow. "Yes, and they should be," said Lennon.

He is bullish about Celtic's prospects in Milan, where he believes they can edge a point. "That will be the intention, yeah, or win the game," he said. "I don't think this team fear going away." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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