By Ken Martin
Celtic FC know only too well how costly slip-ups can be in the UEFA Champions League. The Hoops failed to capitalise on their 3-1 win over FC Basel at Celtic Park in the qualifiers last season and fell to a 2-0 defeat at Saint Jakob Park, which was enough to take the Swiss side through to the first group stage on away goals.
This time round, Celtic approach the second leg of their third-round qualifier against MTK Hungária with a four-goal cushion and home advantage. And Swedish forward Henrik Larsson is determined they will not let up in the return leg on Wednesday.
Early goal wanted
"Many people are thinking that Champions League qualification is a foregone conclusion for Celtic," he told uefa.com. "But even though we had a great result against MTK away from home we have to make sure now that we play well at Celtic Park. If we can go out and get an early goal then we can relax a little bit - but we have to ensure that we don't make any silly mistakes.
"We learnt a lot about MTK in the first leg and I think the 4-0 scoreline was a little unfair because they are a good side.
They have good skill on the ball but I think we had a little more experience in our side than them and that was what made the difference.
"I think, though, it's going to be really hard for MTK at Celtic Park. It's always an advantage to play at home and there are around 60,000 fans expected to be there. The atmosphere is always good at our home ground and it's always intimidating for the team that comes to Celtic Park because often, they are not used to playing in front of that many people."
Celtic picked up from the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Champions League last season, by putting together a fantastic run all the way to the final of the UEFA Cup, which they narrowly lost to FC Porto. But does Larsson believe last year's European heroics have given Celtic the experience they need to cut it in the Champions League?
"First we have to qualify," said Larsson. "
Then it's hard to say whether last year's great run in the UEFA Cup will give us the experience that we need to do well in the Champions League. The Champions League and the UEFA Cup are very different competitions and the Champions League will certainly be a step up from the UEFA Cup."
As the 31-year-old embarks on what he has announced will be his final year at Celtic, Larsson hopes to help the team enjoy another European adventure. "European football is very important to Celtic," he said. "The financial bonus of making it into the Champions League is essential, but more than that we want to be able to prove that we can perform to a high standard every year on the European stage."
Henrik Larsson's personal website is at www.icons.com
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