Strachan pins hopes on Sno as Gravesen stand-in

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The Independent Online

Celtic's only previous meeting with Benfica was decided in the Scots' favour on the toss of a coin after an aggregate 3-3 draw in the second round of the European Cup in 1969. Multiple injury concerns for both sides ahead of tonight's Champions' League match at Parkhead have set up a different kind of lottery.

Celtic will be without Thomas Gravesen and the experienced Dane will be replaced at the heart of midfield by Evander Sno. The 19-year-old Dutchman also deputised at the weekend, in Celtic's 4-1 win at Dundee United, but has never played Champions' League football before.

"It has to be done [sometime] - it's part of the learning stage," Gordon Strachan, Sno's manager, said yesterday. "Hopefully he is going to play loads of games for Celtic in the future and become a better player."

"I thought I did well against United," Sno said. "It's a different challenge playing against Benfica but I'm ready. In fact, my feeling is that I'm ready to be a regular in the first team."

Strachan has fitness doubts over three more players. The strikers Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Maciej Zurawski both have hamstring problems while the winger Aiden McGeady has an ankle strain.

The double header against the Portuguese, today and in a fortnight, is likely to decide which of the clubs progress through Group F along with Manchester United, who now face two games with underdogs Copenhagen, whom Celtic defeated 1-0 last time out.

Benfica could only draw in their opening game with the Danes for their sole point so far and have arrived in Glasgow with history against them and major absences in their own ranks. Celtic have won seven out of 10 Champions' League group games at home, and lost only one. Since beating Benfica by coin 37 years ago, they have played Portuguese opposition six times in Europe at home, winning five and drawing one.

Benfica's missing players include the midfielders Rui Costa (thigh), Paulo Jorge (knee) and Giorgios Karagounis (calf).

Celtic (probable, 4-4-2): Boruc; Telfer, Caldwell, McManus, Naylor; Nakamura, Lennon, Sno, McGeady; Vennegoor of Hesselink, Miller.

Benfica (probable, 4-2-3-1): Quim; Alcides, Luisao, Anderson, Leo; Katsouranis, Petit; Miccoli, Assis, Simao; Nuno Gomes.

Referee: E Braamhaar (Netherlands).

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