• Celtic v Spartak Moscow, Champions League

Celtic target Lennon's 'greatest moment'

ESPN staff
December 5, 2012
Celtic need to make sure this moment leads to a place in the last-16 of the Champions League © PA Photos

Neil Lennon believes he is on the cusp of his greatest achievement as Celtic manager as he prepares for Wednesday's Champions League Group G decider against Spartak Moscow at Parkhead.

The Hoops had to fight their way through two qualifying rounds and were then unfancied when drawn alongside the Russian club, Benfica and Barcelona.

However, with seven points from five games, including a famous 2-1 home win over the Catalan giants, the Scottish champions will go through to the last-16 if they get a better result against Spartak - who are consigned to the bottom of the table - than Benfica manage against Barcelona.

The former Celtic skipper, who became boss of the Parkhead club in 2010, said: "It would be my best achievement as a manager here. It would be great for everyone associated with the club and it would give the players something to look forward to and get their teeth into in the new year.

"No one gave us a prayer coming into the competition. There were people saying we wouldn't get a point and people saying we wouldn't get into the Europa League but we felt that we had a decent chance and that's what we have given ourselves.

"However, regardless of the outcome, we will have European football [in the new year] and that was one of the targets going into the group. Which competition it is in remains to be seen but we would all love to be in the Champions League, obviously.''

Celtic's task may have become more difficult with the news that Barcelona are set to leave out Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Pedro Rodriguez for the visit of Benfica.

However, Lennon said: "I am not concerned with what other teams are doing in the competition. I am concerned with my own team and how they play, and regardless of whether Barcelona leave six players out, the six players who come in will be quality.

"What I want is for us to win the game and that would mean Benfica would have to win in Barcelona.''

The Northern Irishman knows that in such a night of tension the score from the Barca game will filter through to his players, but he said: "I don't think we can stop that getting through from the crowd but the players will be focused regardless of the result elsewhere. I want them to be concentrated. It is a difficult enough task as it is.''

Spartak Moscow midfielder Kim Kallstrom is looking to complete a Glasgow double by ending Celtic's hopes. The Sweden international was in the Lyon side that travelled to Ibrox in December, 2007 needing a win to pip Rangers to second place in Group E and they emerged with a 3-0 victory.

Kallstrom's current side have been consigned to bottom spot in Group G with three points from five games but will have a say in whether Celtic join Barcelona in the knockout stages.

Kallstrom said: "I remember the game at Ibrox, we had to win with Lyon and it was a great night. It was one of my favourite games in the Champions League.

"The atmosphere at Ibrox was fantastic and I think it will be even better [at Celtic]. The slight difference this time against Celtic is that we cannot go through. `For us, even though we cannot go through, it is a big game, it is a Champions League game, we have a lot of things to prove to each other and also to the fans."

Celtic player to watch: With Victor Wanyama suspended for Celtic's key make-or-break clash, the onus falls on Scott Brown to drive the team forward from midfield. Brown has been dogged by a hip problem this season but insists he will put his body on the line to get three points at Celtic Park.

Spartak Moscow player to watch: Former Bhoys favourite Aiden McGeady returns to Glasgow, insisting he hopes the fans will not boo him. Always a trickster, McGeady could hurt his former side, although he is known to go missing at crucial moments.

Betting: Celtic never do things the easy way, so back them to qualify via a 1-1 draw at 11/2 with bet365.

Prediction: 1-1

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