Neil Lennon has warned doubters not to underestimate Celtic ahead of the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash against Juventus at Celtic Park night.
To the surprise of many pundits and fans, the Hoops emerged ahead of Benfica and Spartak Moscow to finish second in Group G behind star-studded Barcelona — whom they famously beat 2-1 at Celtic Park last November — and earn their place in the knock-out stages of the tournament for the first time in five seasons.
The Serie A champions, though, are strong favourites to progress through to the quarter-finals but manager Lennon, while recognising the quality of the visitors, said: “I think we have been (underestimated) throughout the whole campaign and going into this game we are being made out to be massive underdogs but I don’t quite see it that way myself.
“There is a real belief, anything can happen over two games. We go into the tie as underdogs but nothing is going to be decided at the end of 90 minutes tomorrow night, it is over two games and we are prepared to play hard football over 180 minutes.
“They have excellent strikers — Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarella, Sebastian Giovinco, and they have also brought in Nicolas Anelka. But the one who has caught my eye is Alessandro Matri, he looks an excellent young player.
“They are very strong in midfield. Arturo Vidal is playing very well currently, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio, these are class players including Andrea Pirlo who is still one of the finest midfield players in the world.
“So the team is blessed with fantastic footballers but we knew that before the tie or before any preparation were made.
“But it would be dangerous to underestimate Celtic. We have proved already this season that we can be a match for anyone.”
The former Bhoys player recognises the difference between the Italian giants and Barca.
“They are two different cultures,” he said.
“We have done a lot of work on Juventus and I have seen them myself so we will have to change the way we played against Barcelona but that is only natural because Barcelona dominate possession like no other team.”
However, Lennon expects another momentous European night at Celtic Park.
When he was confirmed as Celtic boss in June 2010, after a spell as caretaker, Lennon said he wanted to “bring the thunder back to this stadium – I want to make it rock again.”
In a tweet earlier today, he said: “..think i can hear thunder in the distance” and he expanded upon that at the pre-match press conference.
“This will be one of my best achievements, to bring these nights back to Celtic Park,” he said. “It is the only show around, a European night at Celtic Park.”
Lennon is sweating over the availability of two key players.
Forward Georgios Samaras is battling to recover from a hamstring injury while stopper Efe Ambrose played for Nigeria in their 1-0 African Cup of Nations final win over Burkina Faso on Sunday night and will not be back in Glasgow until this morning.
Left-back Emilio Izaguirre has recovered from a knee injury while winger James Forrest is fit again following a hamstring problem.
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