O'Neill believes United friendly can fire European hopes

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The Independent Football

The Celtic manager, Martin O'Neill, is convinced that his side will be more than ready for their early Champions' League start thanks to a tough pre-season tournament in the United States.

Last season's Uefa Cup finalists face a qualifying game against either Torshavn, of the Faroe Islands, or the Lithuanian club Kaunas on 31 July and will need to be well prepared to ensure they advance smoothly to the group stages.

The tournament begins with tonight's game with Manchester United in Seattle and is followed by a match against the Argentinian side Boca Juniors. After a successful tour of Sweden and victory over Fulham in Friday's friendly, O'Neill believes their next two Stateside matches are just what they need for their new Champions' League adventure.

"They are terrific matches for us because it is games against two of the very best," he said. "It will be great experience for us to play United in a different country and the same goes for Boca Juniors and, in terms of preparation, they couldn't be any better.

"In an ideal world it would be good to start off with a league game, but we don't have a league game before the first Champions' League qualifier so it is doubly important that we have some games against a team of real calibre where you will be playing a lot of the match without the ball.

The Celtic captain, Paul Lambert, agreed: "We need games to test us, especially with the first Euro qualifier coming up. We must earn the right to be in the group stages and if we play the way we can then we should make it.

"We certainly don't want another disappointment along the lines of what happened against Basle last season."

O'Neill and Lambert's immediate concern, however, is the small matter of Manchester United. Lambert said: "We beat them 4-3 down there in a game for Giggs' testimonial. Before that they came to Parkhead for Tom Boyd's testimonial match and we lost 2-0. United really got stuck into us that night and didn't hold back. So we knew going to Old Trafford would be tough and we had to be really up for it.

"As usual it was a full house and you just don't play friendlies when the stadium is packed. It never felt like a friendship game and it will be the same in Seattle."

The Welsh international striker John Hartson has travelled with the squad to the United States and is continuing to make good progress from back surgery, but he is unlikely to be involved in either game.

The Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, said: "It is not normal for us to have these kind of matches at this stage. But if you look at the Far East tour a couple of years back, although the games are nice and easy, you don't know whether that is any good for you either."

Ferguson, meanwhile, has confirmed he is in no rush to find a new assistant after Carlos Queiroz's departure to be head coach at Real Madrid. Ferguson said: "I don't know how long it will take, but we are not in a hurry. Taking time has always worked in the past."

Liverpool, meanwhile, have flown out to the Far East for a short tour without three of their senior players. Their new signing Harry Kewell and the Senegal international Salif Diao both suffered ankle ligament damage in Saturday's 1-1 pre-season friendly draw at Crewe and have not made the trip to Bangkok.

Steve Finnan, another new signing, is still recovering from a hernia operation, but should be fit in time for the Amsterdam Tournament match with Galatasaray on 3 August. Kewell is also expected to back in time for Amsterdam, but Diao is facing a longer lay off.