Sport Soccer

Sunday 25 February 2018

Messi ruled out but Celtic still up against it

Kilmarnock 2 Celtic 5

Kilmarnock keeper Craig Samson is left grasping at thin air as Georgios Samaras completes his hat-trick
Kilmarnock keeper Craig Samson is left grasping at thin air as Georgios Samaras completes his hat-trick

Roddy Forsyth

Most footballers would be daunted to come up against Barcelona once in a career but Efe Ambrose plays them every day – in his head.

The Celtic defender claimed as much when asked if he had studied the DVD of last year's Champions League group stage victory against Barcelona at Parkhead, which Neil Lennon issued to his players to get them in the zone for the rematch in the east end of Glasgow tomorrow night.

"Every day I watch Barcelona, so I knew all about them even before we played them last season," said the Nigerian international centre-back.

"When you do, you are learning from people who are better and more experienced than you in many departments, so I watch it to make myself improve. I just have to do that to be better than I was last season and improve on any mistakes I made.

"Knowing what they do and stopping them from doing it are two different things, so we'll have to step up and take on board what the management says to us. We have to play to the manager's tactical discipline and that has been the key for us in the past – also, playing like a team.

"You can't pick one player from their squad and say he is not dangerous. They all are. It's not just Messi. We have to look at stopping Barcelona, not just one player."


Messi, in fact, is stopped already. Midway through the first half of Barcelona's 2-0 win in a La Liga fixture at Almeria on Saturday night the Argentinian signalled distress caused by a thigh injury.

The initial diagnosis is that he will be out for "two to three" weeks which means he should be back in time for El Clásico on October 25.

Messi had scored the first goal in Andalusia before limping off, Adriano adding the second.

Victory made it seven out of seven for Barcelona, their best start to the season, taking them ahead of Atletico Madrid on goal difference and five points clear of third-placed Real Madrid.

Although Adriano said afterwards that he hoped Messi would recover quickly as "the team is completely different with him", Ambrose is surely correct to fear a more general imposition of Barcelona's will as they pursue an exorcism of last season's setback.

"We know it will be even more difficult and dangerous for us, because it will be like payback for them," the 24-year-old defender said.

"A year ago, beating them was unbelievable – so few people imagined that we could beat them. I believe this time Barcelona will be coming full force to Celtic Park to get something out of the game but, at the same time, we are also going to step it up.

"We know all eyes are on us to see if our victory last year was some kind of fluke or just down to luck. We have to prove that we can do it again at Celtic Park. We are not just playing for ourselves, we are playing for 60,000 fans who are the best in the world.

"Beating them last season was one of the best results in my career. It put us into the European limelight. It puts us onto the highest stage and we've been full in view of Europe since then. That game changed everything about how some people looked at Celtic."

The match tomorrow comes exactly a week after Celtic skidded on the banana skin of Morton and tumbled out of the Scottish League Cup.

For a spell at Kilmarnock on Saturday the possibility arose that they might end the week more frustrated, despite having run up a 3-0 lead midway through the first half when Kris Commons' opening strike was supplemented by a double from Georgios Samaras.

Many Kilmarnock fans left when the third goal went in but a splendid free-kick from Sammy Clingan and a cleverly worked goal by Sean Clohessy saw them go into the break with the issue alive again.

Killie's hope of pulling off an improbable draw was undone when Samaras applied his head to a pinpoint free-kick delivery by Charlie Mulgrew.

"Georgios played very well, scoring a hat-trick and putting in that kind of performance," Ambrose said. "He has been battling against injuries for a couple of weeks but you can see he is fully fit and back to his best. He will be a big help to us against Barcelona."

Samaras' performance was described as "world class" by Lennon but the striker was reluctant to accept his manager's accolade and claimed there was no need for a boost ahead of the Barcelona clash.

The Greece forward said: "You cannot compare the two games and [say] that because we won against Kilmarnock, confidence will be high. Confidence is always high.

"We always believe in the ourselves and our team. We don't need to beat Kilmarnock 5-2 to go and be competitive against Barcelona. I feel good within myself. I don't need any confidence. I believe in myself every hour, every day.

"I know exactly what I can do for this team and to help my team-mates win games."

He added: "We will go and enjoy it. We were a bit unlucky in that game against AC Milan, we didn't take our chances. I don't think we will have so many chances against Barcelona so we need to be more clinical.

"If we have the chance, we need to put it in the back of the net if we want something good from the game, like we did last year.

"We have to stay focused, try to minimise our mistakes and try to play to our strengths."

Amino Balde scored his first competitive goal in a Celtic jersey to make the score 5-2 and leave Kilmarnock still without a win.

St Mirren's even worse record, and the fact that Hearts are still seven points from a zero total, because of the sanction imposed on them for insolvency, means that panic has not become part of the equation. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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