Neil Lennon believes Celtic will have to be at their best against an Ajax side he believes are as good as AC Milan and Barcelona to take anything from their crunch Champions League clash in the Amsterdam ArenA tonight.
Expectation is building after the Hoops’ 2-1 Group H win over the Dutch champions last month at Parkhead which gave them their first three points to leapfrog Frank De Boer’s side into third place.
A victory over Ajax could take the Scottish champions ahead of Milan, depending on how the Italian side fare against leaders Barca, and set up a glory night at Celtic Park when the Rossoneri visit Glasgow later in the month.
However, the Celtic boss, who expects Georgios Samaras, Kris Commons and Mikael Lustig to be fit, tried to dampen those expectations.
“We always knew that the double-header against Ajax would be pivotal and it has proved to be the case,” he said.
“You don’t know what is round the corner but what I would say is that on their day Ajax are as good as Barcelona and Milan.
“They caused us as many problems as both those teams and I think it will be the same tomorrow night.
“I think it was important that we got some points on the board against Ajax. But we are under no illusions as to how difficult this will be.
“Ajax were very unfortunate not to beat Milan here.
“I think the Champions League inspires players and gets the best out of them.
“If we are to progress we have to pick something up away, but we don’t need to win. If we can get a point and beat Milan at home that gives us seven points and gives us a real chance of qualifying.”
Lennon admits on-form keeper Fraser Forster will again to be crucial to his side’s chances and expects the big Geordie to gain his first England cap in one of the forthcoming friendlies against Chile and Germany.
The former Celtic skipper said: “He has been in fantastic form for the past two seasons.
“[England manager] Roy Hodgson has already indicated that he might feature in some of the upcoming games. Whether he does or not, that’s up to him but if he did get the chance he is ready for it.”
Ajax boss Frank De Boer hopes the tiny percentage of his side’s fans he describes as “crazy” do not disrupt tonight’s clash.
Uefa opened disciplinary proceedings against the Dutch club after some of their supporters clashed with police and stewards during the game at Parkhead last month
“There is always some crazy people [who] try to disturb something but hopefully it will not happen,” said De Boer.
“It is a crucial game for us,” added the Dutchman. “For them, a draw is maybe enough so they can wait more than they did in Glasgow.
“We have to force the game but we are in good shape to create chances and get the three points.”
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