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Celts on 'special' mission

MANAGER Neil Lennon hopes to give Celtic fans an anniversary present to remember tonight against Barcelona.

Celtic yesterday celebrated their 125th year as Parkhead prepares to host the Catalan giants for a keenly awaited Champions League Group G encounter.

Barcelona paid their respects to Celtic with Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez pictured in the boardroom with the shirt to mark Celtic's 125th anniversary and the club represented at a service in St Mary's Church Hall in the Calton where Brother Walfrid proposed the formation of a football club on 6 November 1887.

But Lennon knows there will be no pleasantries on the field tonight when they take on their star-studded opponents, who are top of the group with nine points from three games, including a 2-1 home win over the Scottish champions last month.

"It is a great occasion for the club today, our anniversary and something we are very proud of," Lennon said. "I think it will be a very special evening.

"One, being in the Champions League, two, playing against arguably the best team in the world and three, the anniversary of our club. It is a pivotal year for us, one of celebration.

"How do you solve a problem like Barcelona? You have to play at your very best, you have to be fully concentrated with great intensity and sometimes even then that is not enough.

"But certainly with a full house I am sure the neutrals will enjoy the atmosphere and the energy that our supporters bring and it should be a great night for the club.

"I am hoping that the players do themselves justice on the night."

Lennon still appeared to be upset by the criticism his side received in some quarters following their defeat in the Nou Camp last month.

Former Barcelona star Bernd Schuster claimed that Celtic should not even be allowed to compete in the same competition as Barca, while Rayo Vallecano boss Paco Jemez was quoted as saying he would be ashamed to adopt the tactics employed by Lennon.

"I am not angry with accusations, I was disappointed," said Lennon, whose side went down to an injury-time goal from Jordi Alba.

"I have watched Barcelona on many occasions, even away from home they have dominated games to the point where it is 70-30 (in terms of possession).

"In some games against Real Madrid and Chelsea at times it was 80 per cent in favour of Barcelona.

"They are the best in the world at keeping possession and they have proved that consistently for the last seven or eight years.

"We never set out to be defensive but Barcelona force you to play that way. I was very proud of the performance and we almost came away with a superb result.

"We should have come out of the game with an enormous amount of credit."

Lennon clearly felt he had not made his point forcefully enough and returned, unprompted, to the theme later in his press conference.

He added: "The other point I would like to make regarding the performance in Barcelona is that people haven't touched upon the fact that we went to Moscow and scored three goals to win the game and we set about (the Barca game) with almost the same personnel and formation.

"But Barcelona are simply better than most other teams at keeping the ball and penning you in.

"I think that sometimes gets overlooked and I think that sometimes people don't give Barcelona the credit for the way they play the game.

"I think that sometimes that gets taken too readily for granted. It has taken a long, long time to get to that level and it is to be admired.

"Anything can happen in football but it will take a concerted effort from all our players and you hope you catch Barcelona on an off night or at a weak moment and capitalise."

Celtic's cause hasn't been helped by the loss through injury of Gary Hooper, James Forrest, Emilio Izaguirre and a major doubt over Georgios Samaras.

At the halfway stage Celtic sit in second place in Group G with realistic hopes of going through to the knock-out phase alongside Barcelona.

"If we can get something out of the game, it will give us a strong foothold in the group," Lennon added.

PREVIOUS MEETINGS

CELTIC 0 BARCELONA 0 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, December 2, 1964

Barcelona travelled to Celtic Park for the first time in 1964 for the second leg of their Fairs Cup second-round tie with a 3-1 lead from the first game. Celtic started the return game with seven players who would win the European Cup three years later -- Ronnie Simpson, Tommy Gemmell, Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill, Jimmy Johnstone, Stevie Chalmers and Bobby Lennox -- but could not get the goals back on a frustrating night.

CELTIC 1 BARCELONA 0 UEFA Cup, March 11, 2004

There was no shortage of drama when Martin O'Neill's side hosted the Catalan giants in the first leg of this Cup clash. Three players were dismissed as Alan Thompson scored a close-range goal to give Celtic a lead to take to the Nou Camp, an advantage they would retain with a goalless draw. Hoops keeper Robert Douglas and Barca midfielder Thiago Motta were sent off after a melee in the tunnel at half-time. Five minutes into the second half, Javier Saviola was also sent packing after a challenge on Thompson, who scored soon after.

CELTIC 1 BARCELONA 3 Champions League, September 14, 2004

Celtic hero Henrik Larsson returned to Parkhead in a Barcelona shirt to help shoot down his old club's unbeaten home record in the Champions League. The visitors started brightly and midfielder Deco gave them a deserved lead after 20 minutes. The roof almost came off Celtic Park when Chris Sutton levelled on the hour but Ludovic Giuly's deflected shot off Jackie McNamara put the visitors back in front. It was left to Larsson to seal Barca's win.

CELTIC 2 BARCELONA 3 Champions League, February 20, 2008

A valiant effort from the home side. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink put the home side in front on 15 minutes with a header, only for Lionel Messi to level three minutes later. Barry Robson restored Celtic's lead before the break with a looping header over Victor Valdes. However, the Parkhead men could not hold out as Thierry Henry curled in the leveller before Messi grabbed a 79th-minute winner.


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