CELTIC are today on the cusp of what would be a “wonderful” Champions League achievement, according to assistant manager Johan Mjallby.
The Hoops are still on a high following their remarkable 2-1 home win over Barcelona earlier in the month and take on Benfica at the Stadium of Light tonight knowing that a victory would ensure qualification through to the knockout stages of the competition with a game remaining.
Indeed, a scoring draw would take Celtic through if Spartak Moscow fail to beat Group G leaders Barcelona in Russia.
On the prospect of reaching the last 16 of the competition for the first time since 2007/08, Mjallby said: “It would be a wonderful achievement for the players and the management. Obviously we can’t compete financially with the other three clubs in the group, so I think it speaks volumes for the players, how hungry they are and their desire to improve all the time.
“No-one gave us a chance when the draw was made, but we always believed in the players and maybe they did even better than we expected.”
Hoops manager Neil Lennon, though, is guarding against the growing feeling that Celtic 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,” said Lennon. “We have two huge games left and this game is very important for both teams. 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.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Cheksea boss Roberto Di Matteo is facing his biggest selection dilemma since last season’s Champions League triumph ahead of their potential do-or-die Group E clash at Juventus.
Di Matteo was contemplating dropping Fernando Torres and others in his underachieving squad in order to avoid the defeat that would leave Chelsea on the brink of being the first Champions League holders to fail to reach the knockout stage.
Di Matteo said: “I’ve always said that we have two strikers in our team, Fernando and Daniel Sturridge.
“They’re both fit and I’ll have to see how we’re going to go tonight. I will do whatever I believe is best for this game.”