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Stokes vows to fire Bhoys' Euro dream

Anthony Stokes is keen for Celtic to take advantage of their Europa League reprieve starting against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on Thursday night.

The Hoops lost 3-1 on aggregate to Sion in the play-offs but were reinstated by UEFA who ruled the Swiss club were guilty of fielding five ineligible players over the two legs, following a signing ban imposed by FIFA.

Celtic took Sion's place in a group which also includes Udinese and Rennes and although the Swiss club's appeal will be heard by UEFA on Tuesday, Stokes and the rest of Neil Lennon's squad are preparing for the trip to Spain.

The Hoops warmed up with a 4-0 hammering of Motherwell in the SPL on Saturday at Celtic Park to remain one point behind SPL leaders Rangers, whom they meet in the first Old Firm derby of the season at Ibrox next Sunday.

Stokes hopes first of all, though, that Celtic will make amends in Madrid for their dismal performances against Sion.

"It is going to be a very difficult game," said the Celtic striker. "They are a top side but we are glad to be back in.

"We didn't do ourselves justice in the games against Sion so we just want to take our chance now that we have an opportunity to get back in there. The Europa League games are massive games and it will be tough for us but on our day we can compete with anyone.

"Beating Motherwell gives us a bit of confidence but we know that we have to be at our best in the coming games."

The Dubliner is unconcerned about the possibility of Sion winning their appeal.

"We are trying not to focus on that to be honest," he said. "As far as we are concerned, we are back in the competition and are focusing on the game and if anything comes about at the appeal on Tuesday, we will deal with it then."

James Forrest was the star man against Motherwell, grabbing a brace in an impressive performance with further goals from fellow midfielders Joe Ledley and Ki Sung-yueng.

However, Lennon, who will spend this week worrying about the fitness of skipper Scott Brown who missed the game with an ongoing ankle problem, knows it will not be so easy in Madrid.

The Celtic manager said: "In terms of the work-rate, commitment and the pace they played at against Motherwell, they will need to match that at least. But we might have to set up the team differently for European matches."

Motherwell manager Stuart McCall, who bemoaned the loss of defender Shaun Hutchinson to an ankle injury, was nothing if not realistic.

"I am not a negative person but anything you get at the Old Firm is a bonus, there is no doubt about that," said the former Rangers midfielder.

"Dundee United went to Celtic and apparently played reasonably well and lost five goals, so that's the scenario. We would have liked to have done better but if you are going to win the game you have to score first. So it was a sore one to take but we have to move on."

Irish Independent