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Celtic manager Neil Lennon hoping for qualification to the knockout stages in Benfica

Updated: Monday, 19 Nov 2012 17:44 | Comments

Neil Lennon (L) celebrates Celtic's crucial victory over Barcelona
Neil Lennon (L) celebrates Celtic's crucial victory over Barcelona

Neil Lennon will invoke the spirit of the Lisbon Lions as he attempts to guide Celtic through to the knockout stages of the Champions League when they play Benfica tomorrow night.

The penultimate Group G encounter will take place at the Stadium of Light but Lennon will take his players to the Estadio Nacional to train in the morning, the scene of the club's famous European Cup final win over Inter Milan in 1967.

Several of the Lions were on the official flight today where they were joined by the trophy, which took up two seats at the back of the plane.

A win for Celtic will guarantee them a place in the last 16 with a score draw being enough if Barcelona beat Spartak Moscow, and Lennon is looking for every advantage.

He said: "1967 is a pivotal day in our history and we all aspire to reach those heights again.

"The Lisbon Lions are a very special team, a unique bunch of men in the history of the club, and it is very poignant that we are playing in Lisbon. We will train at the stadium in the morning and let these current players get a feel of what is a special piece of history for our club."

"We have done remarkably well to be in the position we are in on the back of beating Barcelona but that's gone now." - Neil Lennon

"We did it (trained there) in 2007 and it might inspire them to play as well as they can."

After their remarkable 2-1 win over Barcelona at Parkhead earlier in the month, the Scottish champions are two points behind the Catalan giants with seven points from four games.

Benfica are in third place on four points while Spartak Moscow are bottom with three.

Lennon, though, is guarding against the growing feeling that Celtic, with two games remaining, the last being a home match against the Russian outfit, are all but assured of a place in the knockout stages.

The former Celtic skipper is aware that Benfica will be going all out to get the win they need to retain their interest in the competition.

"We have done remarkably well to be in the position we are in on the back of beating Barcelona but that's gone now," he said.

"We have two huge games left in the competition. This was always going to be a pivotal game for us, regardless of the Barcelona games.

"You are never relaxed whoever the opposition is, particularly at this level. The landscape of the group can change on one night.

"This will be as tough as Barcelona if not tougher. The game is very important for both teams.

"We might get two bites of the cherry but we would like to do it at the first time of asking. But we will have to do very well.

"Benfica are formidable team at home and their domestic form is excellent, and they, like ourselves, go into the game on the back of a very good win.

"Against Benfica in the corresponding fixture 10 of our players made their Champions League debut so they have done very well, they have given themselves a good foundation in the group, but that's all.

"If we didn't (qualify) then it might be an opportunity missed but I am not thinking of that.

"I am not going to set the team up defensively or play for a draw, we will try to play as we always do, to try to win the game and we will see what that brings.

"But the players are in confident mood."

Lennon has a doubt over one of his big guns ahead of the Group G clash at the Stadium of Light.

Skipper Scott Brown (hip), Joe Ledley (groin), and striker Gary Hooper (hamstring) all travelled but the Hoops boss admits only two are certain to be in contention, although he refused to name which player is struggling.

Forward Georgios Samaras, who came off during the 2-0 Clydesdale Bank Premier League win against Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Saturday with fatigue, and midfielder Kris Commons, who was substituted after suffering a dead leg, are both in the squad along with striker Miku, who missed the trip to the Granite City due to what Lennon described as a "small procedure."

Provisional squad: Forster, Matthews, Lustig, Wilson, Ambrose, Brown, Mulgrew, Wanyama, McGeouch, Commons, Ledley, Lassad, Miku, Kayal, Samaras, Hooper, McCourt, Zaluska.

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