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Although Celtic FC's European hopes this season ended with the 2-1 defeat by Aalborg BK on Matchday 5, striker Scott McDonald insists the Scottish champions' final Group E fixture against Villarreal CF is far from a meaningless exercise.
While the Spanish visitors still harbour hopes of pipping Manchester United FC to first place in the section – the two sides sit level on nine points – Celtic's focus is fixed firmly on defending their impressive home record in the competition. Of 17 matches played at Celtic Park in the group stage, the Glasgow club have suffered just one defeat, by FC Barcelona four years ago. Moreover, they have won at least one game in each of their five previous campaigns, hence the determination of McDonald, one of only two Celtic players to have scored in this season's UEFA Champions League, to ensure his side conclude a disappointing campaign on a high.
'Means a lot'
"Regardless of what has happened before, this match still means a lot to us," McDonald said. "We have pride to play for, first and foremost, but we also have a splendid home record in the Champions League to maintain. It's very important to us that we keep that intact. The fans are hurt by what has happened this term, as are the players, but I'm sure the atmosphere will be electric, as usual. Unfortunately, we can't go any further in the competition, but we can finish with a victory."
Lessons in defeat
Despite Celtic's disappointing points' haul – they have accrued just two from five games – McDonald feels he and his team-mates have learned some valuable, if painful, lessons. The Australian international is confident Gordon Strachan's side can return to Europe's premier club competition better equipped than ever next term. "So far, we haven't managed to get a win this season and, of course, that has been a massive disappointment but I really feel we have improved as a team in this season's competition.
"It's ironic, really. I guess you could say we've learned the hard way and, probably, taken more from defeat than we could from winning. It's been up and down for us, but I really don't think we can say our performances, overall, have been poor," the 25-year-old continued. "Against Manchester United at home, we were unlucky not to hold on and get the win, but, even at that, 1-1 against the European champions isn't too bad a result. Our priority now is to be back competing in this competition next season and, in order to do that, we must win the league so we'll be fully focused on that goal."
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