O'Neill recognises the size of Celtic's task

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The Independent Football

Celtic's Champions' League aspirations could be dead and buried by the time they return home to face Shakhtar Donetsk at Parkhead on 1 November. That is the biggest fear of their manager, Martin O'Neill.

Celtic's Champions' League aspirations could be dead and buried by the time they return home to face Shakhtar Donetsk at Parkhead on 1 November. That is the biggest fear of their manager, Martin O'Neill.

The Scottish champions suffered a 3-1 defeat at home to Barcelona on Tuesday night to leave them joint-bottom of Group F after one game. It is not unusual for Celtic to start their group campaign with defeat, as they experienced it against Bayern Munich last season and against Juventus two seasons before that.

But the challenge this time is even more daunting as they must now travel to face the 2003 Champions' League winners Milan in the San Siro on 29 September. O'Neill showed the magnitude of Celtic's task when he half-joked: "We have taken on one of the best sides in European football and got beaten, so all we have to do is go and win in Milan. Milan won in the Ukraine so this group is even tougher now."

After that they face Donetsk, the so-called weakest side in the group, before the sides meet again in Glasgow at the start of November. But O'Neill fears that by the time they play Donetsk at home they could be fighting it out for little more than third place in the group and a Uefa Cup spot.

"It's three points gone and I would have been happy had we got something out of the game," he said. "But we have a fair idea about the number of points needed to try and get through. On this occasion we have been beaten and our next two games are away from home and I know we have got to have points on the board before coming back here."

But he believes that if they can stay in the hunt then the atmosphere at Parkhead could spur them to the knock-out stages. "When the crowd is up it is a great evening and the team responds, no doubt about it," he said yesterday.

His Barcelona counterpart, Frank Rijkaard, expressed his concerns about the noise inside Parkhead in the build-up to Tuesday night's game and he believes that it could unsettle their next opponents and that Celtic can get points on their travels.

"They have a definite chance against the other teams if they manage to bring this game spirit on to the pitch," the Dutchman said. "Once again the crowd were like a 12th player on the pitch and I think the other opponents will not find it an easy match against them."

Celtic looked out of it when Ronaldinho stepped up to the penalty spot with Deco having already put the Catalan side 1-0 ahead. But David Marshall pulled off a fine save and Chris Sutton came off the substitutes' bench to equalise, which gave the home side impetus.

The returning hero, Henrik Larsson, had other ideas and he was involved in Ludovic Giuly's goal before securing the points himself with the third.

Celtic are unlikely to face any punishment from Uefa following Tuesday's late kick-off. Congestion problems caused the kick-off to be delayed by half an hour to allow thousands of queuing fans outside Parkhead time to take their seats in the stadium.

Both sets of players were kept in the tunnel for fear that the arrival of the teams on the pitch could cause fans outside to charge the turnstiles.

While other games around Europe were heading towards half-time, Celtic and Barcelona players were finally able to leave the tunnel and a further five-minute delay was imposed to allow the players time to warm-up.

Celtic officials were waiting for the report from the German referee, Markus Merk, to arrive at Uefa headquarters yesterday evening but a club spokesman said that they are unlikely to be fined for the delay.

"We are waiting for the referee and the delegate's reports," he said. "It is very unlikely that action will be taken against Celtic because the decision concerning the delay was taken by Uefa in co-operation with the local police authorities."

Reports have suggested that a faulty turnstile at Parkhead was at the root of the problems but Celtic have denied any difficulties with the facilities.

Meanwhile, Celtic have been boosted by the news that Jackie McNamara should be back in action within six weeks. The Hoops captain was clearly in agony when he was taken off on Tuesday. His foot appeared to catch in the turf as he tried in vain to prevent Giuly scoring Barça's second goal.

It was initially feared that McNamara had broken his ankle, but a scan has revealed a bad twist and ligament strain.

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