O'Neill is baffled by 'surreal' Uefa ban

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The Independent Online

If it is possible to be truly alone surrounded by 60,000 people, then Martin O'Neill will be in solitary confinement tonight. "Surreal," was how the Celtic manager described his ban for the Champions' League meeting with Porto at Parkhead, but even by Uefa's standards of reverse logic, O'Neill appears to be truly unique.

Celtic's appeal to overturn a one-match ban, not just from the touchline, but also from the tunnel and dressing room itself for the visit of the Portuguese side, was last night thrown out in a ruling by the Court of Arbitration.

Celtic had contested Uefa's punishment – imposed for disputing the controversial last minute penalty last week which robbed them of a draw at Juventus – by pleading their case to the Court of Arbitration in Lausanne. Now O'Neill will have to settle for the best seat in the house, in the comfort of the directors' box.

Football's Mr Motivator relies on his coaxing and cajoling from within earshot of the pitch, but he admitted yesterday that the closest he will come tonight is via a mobile during the interval. "I would have accepted a touchline ban," O'Neill stated, "but a dressing-room ban is a surprise to me.

"I don't even know what time the suspension takes place. Is is 10 minutes before the game or two hours?" O'Neill said he had been given no clarification by Uefa of his offence in the Stadio Delli Alpi, where the referee Hellmutt Krug ordered him to the stand for disputing a penalty converted by Nicola Amoruso.

"I don't know if the ban is for leaving the technical area or disputing the decision. The players and I have spent the last 15 months together and it will be strange for them not to see me in the dressing-room, but they are well equipped to go out and get a result."

However, O'Neill has warned his team not to go out gung-ho against Porto in an attempt to redress the injustice. "Porto are a gifted side who are capable of doing a lot of damage on the break," he said.

The striker Chris Sutton, Joos Valgaeren, Neil Lennon and Didier Agathe will all return to the Celtic line-up after being rested for the League victory over Aberdeen on Saturday.

Sutton, who has undergone a renaissance since moving from Chelsea, is be watched by Tord Grip, the England assistant manager, with a view to being called into the squad for the World Cup tie with Greece.

Celtic (probable; 3-5-2): Douglas; Mjallby, Balde, Valgaeren; Agathe, Lambert, Lennon, Petrov, Petta; Sutton, Larsson.

Porto (probable; 5-3-2): Ovchinnikov; Ibarra, Costa, Carvalho, Silva, Andrade; Costinha, Paredes, Sousa; Capucho, Pena.

Referee: D Joll (Netherlands).

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