Lambert craves his chance to drive Celtic through Europe

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The Independent Football

Paul Lambert was not part of Scotland's demise in Cardiff. It would have hurt him deeply. Lambert, though, has already endured too much pain in a dark-blue shirt this season.

An ankle injury sustained playing against Germany in the Euro 2004 qualifiers brought his international career to an end. It also left him on the outside looking in as Celtic embarked on one of the most remarkable runs in the club's history.

Martin O'Neill's side hope to set a new landmark by securing their 24th successive victory today in the Scottish Premier League when they travel across Glasgow to face Partick Thistle. Lambert is hoping to get a rare start but his real target is regaining a place to face FK Teplice in the Uefa Cup on Thursday.

The competition, of course, provided Lambert - and Celtic - with their greatest heartache last May when they lost in the final to Porto in Seville. Now that his Scotland role has ended, the midfielder believes he may have a bit more left in the tank than others at this arduous point of the season.

"I feel great now but I have had to bide my time to get back in the team," said Lambert as he reflected on the third-round, first-leg tie, against the Czech side. "The team have been doing so well and all I have managed is a few substitute appearances recently.

"I have always said that the team are bigger than the individual. The most important thing is winning because being successful is what this club demands. However, my best period in recent seasons was after I retired briefly from Scotland in 2002. I had so much energy because I was playing fewer games." It was ironic that the curtain came down on Lambert's Scotland career in Dortmund last September. The city that he paraded the European Cup around in 1997, with his Borussia team-mates, ripped apart his European plans and ambitions for this season.

Lambert missed Celtic's entire Champions League campaign and they missed him - as have Scotland - as they had qualification torn from their fingers by Lyon in the final minutes of the group stage. Admission to the Uefa Cup was a consolation prize that did not console anyone at Parkhead then, but the mood is different now.

"I would love to have won the Uefa Cup last season but we still have the same hunger and desire to win because that is what we are all about," said Lambert. "However, there is no doubt that Teplice must be a good team because they have already knocked out Feyenoord and Kaiserslautern. It is dangerous when you are playing a side who can surprise you.

"Everyone wants a repeat of last season but we are not looking that far ahead. I want us to win everything that we are involved in to make up for last season. I am 35 and maybe if I was 22 and on the bench, I would be pulling my hair out, but I have to wait my turn."

However, now might just be the time when O'Neill opts for Lambert's experience over Stephen Pearson in time to help Celtic eclipse Morton's 40-year-old record today and then the Czechs on Thursday.