"This is their moment," said Neil Lennon yesterday. "They might never get this opportunity again.
"We have turned a lot of heads and the performances have shown the club are a force to be reckoned with again, but to really enhance the season and to put us back in that really big picture, we need qualification. That would justify all of it."
On the eve of his side's final group G Champions League game with Spartak Moscow at Celtic Park, Lennon was hitting the right notes. It was inspirational stuff, but then it has been an inspirational campaign. Lennon's challenge right now is to ensure his words ring louder in the heads of his players than the platitudes that have come their way ever since they beat Barcelona on a special evening at in Glasgow exactly four weeks ago. Boxing off that match, when Celtic defeated Barcelona 2-1 on a truly historic night, cannot be easy. A result against Spartak tonight that betters what Benfica do against Barcelona, will ensure Celtic, the minnows of their group, go through to the final 16, for the first time in five years. They could reach 10 points, which would be a club high.
Lennon has striker Gary Hooper, who missed the Barcelona game through injury, back, and his captain Scott Brown will also start, although the hugely influential Victor Wanyama will be missing in midfield through the yellow card he picked up late in the defeat to Benfica in Lisbon.
That narrow loss has moved Celtic's fate from their own hands but beating Barcelona in the Nou Camp is still a task of some magnitude, even with the home side set to rest half of their side tonight (although Messi will play).
"I think we've got to go for it," Lennon added. "I just want them to go and play as they can at home on a big European night, aggressively and with a good tempo. "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." If the Champions League has unified Lennon's side, then their opponents are in disarray. Spaniard Unai Emery was sacked as coach following a defeat to Dinamo 10 days ago. All focus may once again be on Barcelona, but this time on how they are doing.Reuse content