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Gerland braced for fireworks

Published: Tuesday 9 December 2003, 22.01CET
Olympique Lyonnais and Celtic FC have both promised to attack in their decisive Group A showdown.
Published: Tuesday 9 December 2003, 22.01CET

Gerland braced for fireworks

Olympique Lyonnais and Celtic FC have both promised to attack in their decisive Group A showdown.

By Pete Sanderson in Lyon

If Olympique Lyonnais coach Paul Le Guen was feeling the heat ahead of his side's UEFA Champions League showdown against Celtic FC on Wednesday it certainly did not show in his final public appearance before the fireworks begin.

Tight group
Incredibly, only one point separates all four sides in Group A going into the final round of Matchday 6 games and, while the finer permutations would baffle even the finest mathematician, Le Guen insists his side only need worry about one outcome at the Stade Gerland.

Win or bust
"We simply have to win," he said. "Depending on what goes on in the game between [FC] Bayern München and [RSC] Anderlecht we could feasibly finish anywhere in the group. But we have analysed the last game with Celtic and know that if we play the way we know we can then we will not have to worry about all that."

Poor form
Lyon, who will be keen to avenge their 2-0 defeat at Celtic Park on Matchday 2, when second-half goals from Liam Miller and Chris Sutton put the match out of reach, looked to have one foot in the last 16 following their victory in Munich on Matchday 4. A 1-0 loss to Anderlecht on Matchday 5, however, not only saw them slip to third in the group but also led to some indifferent domestic form.

Mountain to climb
A 2-1 win over FC Metz on Friday put an end to that and convinced French international keeper Grégory Coupet that Lyon can overcome a spirited Celtic challenge. "Lyon are at the foot of a great mountain," he said. "But winning against Metz was the best way to prepare for the Celtic match. We expect to win but we will certainly not underestimate them. Individually their players may not be top class - apart from Henrik Larsson of course - but what the team does have is great mental strength."

Fitness race
The man who instilled that inner belief into a Celtic side who have won 14 consecutive league games was manager Martin O'Neill. Although Bobo Balde is expected to win his fitness race, the Northern Irishman enters the biggest game of Celtic's season with three key players absent. Winger Alan Thompson is suspended and Jackie McNamara and Didier Agathe are both sidelined with injury.

No excuses
"Yes we have a few players out," said O'Neill. "But we survived a few games without Henrik during last year's UEFA Cup run and we can survive without these guys. The players who come in know exactly what they have to do so I am not going to make any excuses about injuries or suspensions."

Natural game
O'Neill also laughed off suggestions that his side would be playing for the draw they needed to advance to the knockout stages. "When is the last time you saw one of my sides playing for a draw?" grinned the former Leicester City FC manager. "We must attack. The worst thing we could do is invite pressure from a side of Lyon's quality. Especially after last years achievements when we played so brilliantly in Liverpool and Stuttgart to reach the UEFA Cup final."

Bad memories
O'Neill also insisted that striker Larsson would not be unnerved on his first return to the ground on which he broke his left leg after a challenge from Serge Blanc back in 1999. "Henrik has already shown he has recovered both physically and mentally from that injury and he is more than happy to play the game from the start," concluded O'Neill.

Last updated: 10/12/03 10.29CET

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