Bhoys in the mood: Celtic are a match for anyone, insists boss Lennon
23:38 GMT, 18 September 2012
Neil Lennon insists Celtic have no intention of playing the role of Champions League whipping boys.
The Scottish champions host Portuguese aristocrats Benfica on matchday one of Europe’s blue riband competition on Wednesday evening.
And, despite their status as the unfancied pot four side in Group G, Lennon believes his team can hold their own against any opposition.
Raring to go: Celtic train ahead of their clash with Benfica
‘Benfica will come here with an excellent side full of quality players,’ said the Celtic manager. ‘I don’t really want to talk about Benfica though, I’d rather talk about my own team.
‘We’re here to compete, we’re not here to be also-rans or make up the numbers. We might not get this opportunity for another wee while, so we have to make the most of it.
‘I don’t think Benfica will underestimate us because we’re Scottish. Celtic at home against anyone is a fixture that should be respected.’
Despite selling two of their star players in the summer, Benfica are still favourites to join Barcelona in the last 16.
Challenge: Benfica will pose a tough test for Celtic
In three meetings in Europe since 1969, however, the two sides have been perfectly matched, winning their home and away ties by identical scorelines.
But Celtic have never lost a goal at home to the Portuguese and, buoyed by 60,000 supporters tonight, Lennon — who savaged his side after Saturday’s defeat to St Johnstone — now wants his players to embrace the experience.
‘I want them to do themselves justice,’ he insisted. ‘I want them to show the talent they have, allied to the good mentality they’ve shown over the last few years.Our performances in Europe have been good recently and I hope they don’t show Benfica too much respect. I don’t want them to be fazed by it.
Hotseat: Celtic manager Neil Lennon looks ahead to his side's match
‘I just want them to play their natural game and, if we do that, we can be a match for anyone. This is a step-up in class, there’s no doubt about that, but this is why we’re here.
‘We want to play against the best.
‘Benfica have great experience in the Champions League over the last few years. They have a good pedigree.
‘(But) there shouldn’t be any nerves — this is a competition that the players look forward to playing in; to challenge themselves against the best clubs in Europe and Benfica certainly come into that category.’