• Champions League

Lennon: Don't underestimate Celtic

ESPN staff
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Neil Lennon has studied Juventus at close quarters © Getty Images
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Celtic manager Neil Lennon has insisted that his side have belief ahead of the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash against Juventus.

To the surprise of many pundits and fans, the Hoops emerged ahead of Benfica and Spartak Moscow to finish second in Group G behind star-studded Barcelona - whom they famously beat 2-1 at Celtic Park last November - and earn their place in the knockout stages of the tournament for the first time in five seasons.

The Hoops are underdogs with the Serie A champions strong favourites to progress through to the quarter-finals, but Lennon believes that Celtic are there on merit and should not be underestimated.

"I think we have been [underestimated] throughout the whole campaign and going into this game we are being made out to be massive underdogs but I don't quite see it that way myself," Lennon said. "There is a real belief, anything can happen over two games.

"We go into the tie as underdogs but nothing is going to be decided at the end of 90 minutes tomorrow night, it is over two games and we are prepared to play hard football over 180 minutes.

"They have excellent strikers - Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarella, Sebastian Giovinco, and they have also brought in Nicolas Anelka. But the one who has caught my eye is Alessandro Matri, he looks an excellent young player.

"They are very strong in midfield. Arturo Vidal is playing very well currently, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio, these are class players including Andrea Pirlo who is still one of the finest midfield players in the world. So the team is blessed with fantastic footballers but we knew that before the tie or before any preparation were made. But it would be dangerous to underestimate Celtic. We have proved already this season that we can be a match for anyone.''

The former Hoops player, who described Juventus training at Rangers' Murray Park training complex on Monday as "irrelevant'', also recognises the difference between the Italian giants and Barca.

"They are two different cultures,'' he said. "Juventus are very strong defensively, very well-organised, very consistent in domestic football and they have been very impressive in their Champions League campaign.

"We have done a lot of work on Juventus and I have seen them myself so we will have to change the way we played against Barcelona but that is only natural because Barcelona dominate possession like no other team.''

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