O'Neill warns Celtic against the Barcelona hangover

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The Independent Football

The Celtic manager, Martin O'Neill, insisted yesterday that his players expect Villarreal to be even tougher than Barcelona - even if their supporters are already thinking of Gothenburg and another Uefa Cup final.

The Celtic following could be forgiven for letting their imaginations run wild after the heroics that knocked Barcelona out of the Uefa Cup in the Nou Camp. But O'Neill is adamant those sentiments are not shared by the players. Villarreal have already eliminated Roma and Galatasaray, and even beyond that Valencia or Bordeaux lie in wait.

"That's the way I would look at it," O'Neill said. "It's going to be a sterner test. They will be confident because they knocked Roma out of the competition in the last round.

"The Barcelona thing was fantastic but you don't get much time to enjoy it. You get over one and then it's the next one.

"It was a heroic performance in the Nou Camp and a good result with some wonderful performances. But we have to do exactly the same again to have a chance against Villarreal.

"We can't expect anything," O'Neill added. "You only have to look at the Champions' League games to prove that. I think it's sometimes strange, funny and morose that when you do well against a big side, then the next one that comes along is seemingly less difficult to some people.

"Nobody here shares that view. They knocked out Roma so they will feel that they won't have a problem beating us. I have watched videos of their games and they can definitely play. I ignore what other people feel. I know in the dressing-room that they will feel this game will probably be harder."

But the Celtic midfielder Alan Thompson - who along with Chris Sutton signed a two-year contract extension yesterday - believes their experience in Europe in recent seasons gives them an advantage over the improving La Liga side. "I would like to think so," the Englishman said. "The last year [when Celtic reached the Uefa Cup final but were beaten by Porto] should stand us in good stead. We know that they have beaten some good sides, so we will give them the respect they deserve. We have learned it's vital to keep a clean sheet at home."

O'Neill will recall Neil Lennon to his starting line-up. The midfielder missed the dramatic weekend draw with Hearts because of a persistent leg injury. Stilian Petrov is also expected to start after being rested against the Edinburgh side, while Bobo Balde will also play after being banned for the match in Barcelona. Sutton (groin), Thompson (hamstring) and Joos Valgaeren (hamstring) have also declared themselves fit after recent problems, while Liam Miller is pushing for a place.

Probable squad: Marshall, Lennon, McNamara, Balde, McManus, Valgaeren, Miller, Varga, Agathe, Pearson, Petrov, Thompson, Larsson, Sutton, Sylla, McGovern, Lambert, Mjallby, Beattie, Smith, Douglas.

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